Oklahoma Wind Farms May Benefit Prairie Chickens

From this story in the Oklahoman:
_The Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. is giving another $4.9 million to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation for building a wind farm through prime prairie chicken country. The money is for the Keenan Phase II Wind Farm in Woodward County. State wildlife officials plan to use $3.9 million of the OG&E pledge to help buy 6,100 acres in Beaver County as a sanctuary for the threatened birds. Last year, the utility company pledged $3.75 million to the Wildlife Department for building the OU Spirit Wind Farm in Woodward County.

__...But will it really save the birds? Can the Wildlife Department just buy more land to replace prairie chicken country that is lost by the development of wind power? Unfortunately, the best place to harvest wind energy in Oklahoma is in the last remaining places where prairie chickens can survive. The two can't co-exist on the same ground. Prairie chickens see wind turbines as raptor roosts. The birds instinctively scatter from the ominous shadows of wind turbines. Even Alan Peoples, head of the wildlife division for the state Wildlife Department, admitted to wildlife commissioners at Tuesday's meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission that it might be a losing battle.

"We are trying to work as hard as we can to stave off the inevitable," Peoples told commissioners. "The lesser prairie chicken is in peril. There is no doubt about it." To be fair, prairie chickens were disappearing even before wind farms began appearing on the prairie. Prairie chickens have very strict habitat requirements and the prairie has changed from when they were thriving and plentiful. The introduction of exotic grasses and the encroachment of Eastern red cedars have not been kind to the birds. Wind farms are just the latest in a long line of culprits.

The Wildlife Department is trying to protect what land remains that can support prairie chickens. The agency is using the OG&E money to buy land where prairie chickens now live, and land that the birds once called home and trying to restore their habitat. State wildlife officials are concentrating on areas adjacent to wind farms. The hope is that birds which are displaced by wind farms will find new homes nearby and survive. But will it work? "It's too early to tell," Peoples said. Wildlife Department surveys indicate the population of prairie chickens continues to decline in western Oklahoma._

Your thoughts? As our prairie grouse species continue to decline, are programs like this a lifeline, or are they simply putting off the inevitable?