KARS creates online tool for habitat impact assessments

Published on December 9, 2013 by Mike Houts

Tags: Agriculture, Bioassessment, Colorado, Conservation, Crucial Habitat, Grasslands, Great Plains, Habitat, Impact, Kansas, Land cover, Land use, Lepc, Lesser prairie-chicken, New Mexico, Oil and Gas, Oklahoma, Prairie, SGP CHAT, Texas, Transmission Lines, Vertical Structures, WGA, Wildlife, Wind Turbines

Sample impact areas associated with an array of wind turbines.

Sample impact areas associated with an array of wind turbines.

The KARS Program and the Kansas Biological Survey have added new online geo-processing tools to help energy developers estimate potential new landscape impact associated with oil/gas, wind, and electric transmission lines. The tools are part of the Southern Great Plains Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool (SGP CHAT) and are in support of the Lesser prairie-chicken (LPC) Range-Wide Conservation Plan that aims to conserve the species and preclude its listing as a Threatened species. In accordance with the Range Wide Plan, enrolled participants who, through the creation of new oil/gas wells, wind turbines, transmission lines…, negatively impact LPC habitat are assessed a habitat loss cost based on the location and acreage of the impacted area. Money collected is used for habitat improvement projects to help improve the amount of suitable habitat and increase the population of the LPC. Habitat credits are also created through habitat reclamation activities that improve marginal habitat.

While the exact costs associated with impacts are determined by field assessments by certified personnel, developers can get an idea of the potential impact costs using the Impact Estimator tools. The tools buffer proposed project sites by distances of biological relevance to the LPC and provide users a high and low cost estimate for the impacted area. This cost range corresponds to whether the impacts occur on high quality or low quality LPC habitats. Additionally, the Impact Estimator tools account for existing impacts on the landscape and subtract these from any new impacts, so new sites are only held accountable for newly impacted habitat. As a result, there is a great financial incentive to site new projects on lower quality habitat and/or in areas already impacted by existing projects.

The Impact Estimator tools are available in the SGP CHAT web mapping application, and as consumable Geo-processing web services (toolboxes) for users to import into their personal ArcGIS sessions. For instructions on how to access the toolboxes, see the User Guide located in the SGP CHAT web mapping application. For more information on the SGP CHAT data and services contact Mike Houts at the Biological Survey (mhouts@ku.edu) or for information on the LPC range-wide management plan contact the WAFWA Grassland Coordinator Bill Van Pelt, BVanpelt@azgfd.gov or visit the team’s website at http://www.wafwa.org/html/prairie_chicken.shtml.