More Research Needed On Utility-Scale Solar Projects’ Impact On Wildlife


More peer-reviewed scientific studies of the effects on wildlife of large-scale solar energy developments and operations are needed to adequately assess their impact, especially in the desert Southwest, according to a new scientific literature review conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and published in the journal BioScience.

In their literature review, the authors of the paper, USGS scientist Jeffrey Lovich and Maryville College scientist Joshua Ennen, found that out of all the scientific papers they examined, going back well before the 1980s, only one peer-reviewed study addressed the direct impacts of large-scale solar energy development and operations on any kind of wildlife.

One reason that there are few peer-reviewed studies is that the interest in developing alternative energy has grown exponentially in recent years and science has to catch up, the authors explain. Opportunities for hypothesis-driven research on solar energy facilities of this scale – particularly research looking at baseline conditions before development, impacts of operation or conditions after development – have been limited. Â

The authors point out that a great deal of information exists in environmental compliance documents and other unpublished, non-peer-reviewed literature sources, but that more peer-reviewed studies are greatly needed.

‘The dearth of peer-reviewed studies, as shown by the USGS review, can happen whenever society rapidly embarks on major undertakings, such as developing large-scale solar projects,’ says USGS director Marcia McNutt.

According to Lovich and Ennen, these studies are particularly important in sensitive habitats, such as the desert Southwest with its wildlife diversity and fragile arid desert lands.

The review paper findings are expected to help the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies charged with solar siting, development, and operational responsibilities to identify, prioritize and resolve information gaps relative to development and operational impacts to wildlife, and direct monitoring efforts.

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