Academic journal article The American Midland Naturalist

Response of Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus Elaphus) to Wind-Power Development

Academic journal article The American Midland Naturalist

Response of Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus Elaphus) to Wind-Power Development

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT.-

Wind-power development is occurring throughout North America, but its effects on mammals are largely unexplored. Our objective was to determine response (i.e., home-range, diet quality) of Rocky Mountain elk ( Cervus elaphus) to wind-power development in southwestern Oklahoma. Ten elk were radiocollared in an area of wind-power development on 31 March 2003 and were relocated bi-weekly through March 2005. Wind-power construction was initiated on 1 June 2003 and was completed by December 2003 with 45 active turbines. The largest composite home range sizes (>80 km^sup 2^) occurred April-June and September, regardless of the status of wind-power facility development. The smallest home range sizes (<50 km^sup 2^) typically occurred in October-February when elk aggregated to forage on winter wheat. No elk left the study site during the study and elk freely crossed the gravel roads used to access the wind-power facility. Carbon and nitrogen isotopes and percent nitrogen in feces suggested that wind-power development did not affect nutrition of elk during construction. Although disturbance and loss of some grassland habitat was apparent, elk were not adversely affected by wind-power development as determined by home range and dietary quality.

INTRODUCTION

Home-range has been correlated with forage availability, and ungulates in more productive habitats tend to have smaller home ranges (Schoener, 1981; Tufto et al., 1996; Relyea et al, 2000; Kie et al., 2002). Rocky Mountain elk (Cervus elaphus) occupying a forested habitat with a concentrated food source in Washington had smaller home ranges than elk in more open shrub-steppe habitat (McCorquodale, 1991). Foraging and cover habitats, and proximity or isolation of such habitats, can influence home-range size of cervids (Schoener, 1981; Tufto et al, 1996; Relyea et al, 2000). Kie et al. (2002) found that distribution and abundance of various habitat types accounted for 57% of the variability in die home-range size of mule deer ( Odocoileus hemionus) in California.

Among the numerous factors affecting home-range size, infrastructure development may effect habitat and forage availability to the greatest degree (Swihart et al, 1988; Relyea et al., 2000; Vistnes et al., 2001; Kie et al, 2002). Distribution of productive habitats relative to infrastructure development are integral to understanding wildlife use of a landscape (Turner, 1989; Wiens, 1989). Of 99 groups of caribou (Rangifer tarandus granti) that approached a road, pipeline and/or drill site, 10.1% reversed direction and left the study area in the Sagavanirktok River floodplain of Alaska (Fancy, 1983). Similarly, density of reindeer (R. t. tarandus) decreased with increasing infrastructure development (i.e., power lines, roads, tourist resorts) in south

Wind energy provides < 1 % of electricity generated in the U.S., but may provide about 6% of the nation's energy by 2020 (http://www.awea.org). Most research on effects of windpower on wildlife has focused on birds and volant mammals (Osborn et al., 2000; Johnson et al, 2002, 2003). Noises from wind-power generators were detectable by harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) off the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada (Koschinski et ai, 2003), but research on effects of wind-power on terrestrial mammals is lacking. Studies on infrastructure development (i. …

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