At the edge of the Flint Hills in Kansas, the farmyard windmills of the rural past have been replaced by wind-driven turbines that soar above the landscape. Only miles away from these structures lies the largest remaining tract of tallgrass prairie in the United States.
The turbines are part of Enel Green Power North America’s Caney River Wind Project. With its development partner, TradeWind Energy, the firm is demonstrating a commitment to preserve the tallgrass prairie ecosystem as it supplies wind power to the region. In 2011, the companies partnered with NFWF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, Kansas State University and the Tennessee Valley Authority to voluntarily offset the potential impact of wind energy on the surrounding habitat by supporting conservation of thousands of acres of prairie.
On behalf of TradeWind Energy and Enel North America, NFWF is overseeing conservation easements on more than 5,000 acres of land acquired by TradeWind Energy, and will help to acquire 13,200 additional acres for prairie restoration, management, and research benefiting many prairie-dependent species.
One of the most remarkable creatures of the tallgrass prairie is the greater prairie chicken. The mating calls of these birds once boomed over vast expanses of the Midwest, which are now reduced to a shrinking patchwork of grasslands. Conserving these tracts is the first step in boosting populations of the bird in the wild.
“From the start, NFWF did it right by asking local folks how Enel North America’s funding could be put to best use,” said Jim Pitman of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism. “The perpetual easements NFWF is putting on grasslands are critical because tallgrass prairie is the most degraded ecosystem in North America. Our research will help us understand habitat improvements that might increase grassland bird populations, including prairie chickens. Private landowners will benefit from results of our grassland studies on livestock performance under different grazing practices.”
Collaboration with proactive private partners like Enel North America has strengthened the restoration effort. “This is a partnership to understand and offset possible impacts of wind power,” said Pitman. “They’re helping all of us make informed decisions on energy and the environment.”