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Are ranchers spitting into the wind on wind energy issues?

Cattle and wind energy
<p>Cattle share the range with energy development. Getty Images/Justin Sullivan</p>

Just as with water, energy development in the West has become, in some camps at least, a controversial and divisive issue as ranchers, energy developers, sportsmen, conservationists and environmentalists all look at the changing West through their own set of lenses.

Among those energy development issues that has come to the fore in the last decade or so is wind energy. Drive through the Texas Panhandle at night, my recently-departed home for many decades, and the blinking red lights of a multitude of wind turbines dot the landscape in an eerie scene that raises questions from the uninitiated.

Into this challenging and divisive landscape dives the Sandhills Task Force, a group of ranchers, conservation agencies and others who are dedicated to preserving the ranching tradition of the region as well as the wildlife and vegetative diversity of this truly unique part of Nebraska and the West. Nebraska ranks among the top states for potential wind resources and each year brings additional requests for development of wind farms throughout the state, the group says in a recently-published white paper.

The white paper is a result of a request by Gov. Pete Ricketts for input into whether or not to form a working group to address wind energy and other issues facing the ranching economy in the state. In the white paper, the Sandhills Task Force identifies inappropriate placement of energy development as one of the most urgent threats facing the region. Additional priority threats are land fragmentation and invasive species. “If these threats are not addressed soon, the Sandhills could be irreparably altered,” according to the white paper.

Indeed, those are priorities throughout the West. And just like water, ranching interests must be at the table as these issues are cussed, discussed and ultimately, hopefully, solved. Fortunately, there are several resources available to help people throughout the West develop a roadmap to accomplish the task.

One model is what has been done in the Kansas Flinthills to address wind energy development. The Wind and Prairie Task Force has developed principles, tools and guidelines that local entities can use as they address wind energy development and other environmental issues.

In addition, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has established a Nebraska Wind Energy and Wildlife Project that can provide useful information.

These are just two examples of numerous efforts being made throughout the West. Those efforts must continue. Nebraskans should encourage Gov. Ricketts to establish a working group for his state, as should ranchers in other states encourage local and state politicians to do the same.

The unique culture, diversity and quality of the West demands no less.


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