Over the past several years proposals to install wind turbines in the Flint Hills have generated considerable controversy. The Kansas Chapter, in a published policy statement, declined to take a position on individual wind farm proposals anywhere in the state, which is a national policy of the Club? As a result we were subjected to harsh criticism by some opponents of wind power.
National policy aside, many members of the Executive Committee were reluctant to endorse a wholesale ban on wind turbines in the Flint Hills because such a position would ignore many other important issues that needed to be addressed. The Flint Hills is not a pristine region and has been heavily managed by humans for a long time. If this is to continue, as opposed to turning it back to nature, then it really becomes is a matter of equity in land use management. For example, if some land owners are to be denied the use of their land for wind turbines, then why should other landowners be allowed to continue practices which are equally or even more damaging to wildlife and the environment?
Secondly, if the ban on turbines is desired to protect the admittedly strong aesthetic values of the Flint Hills and its value for tourism, then shouldn’t we improve access for average Kansans so they could really enjoy the place in an ecologically sound way?
Finally there was the question of how to balance the existing natural and aesthetic values of the Flints Hills against an overriding need to do our part to combat global warming by promoting renewable energy sources. The question then became, given that the Flint is a really large part of the state, some 60 miles wide and 170 miles long, how much of the area’s hugely valuable wind resources should be placed off limits? After considerable deliberation the excom has decided on a new, comprehensive policy for the protection of the Flint Hills.
The Policy. The Kansas Chapter believes that the recovery and conservation of the Flint Hills requires a comprehensive approach by state leaders. Addressing only the issue of utility scale wind turbines will leave, frozen in place, the existing abuses to the Flint Hills ecosystem and the region’s air quality, as well as inadequate facilities for the enjoyment of the area by nature-oriented visitors. Therefore, the Kansas Chapter of the Sierra Club offers the following five-point plan for the protection of the Flint Hills: Establish:
1. a ban on the use of utility-scale wind turbines in the area designated by the Governor as the “Heart of the Flint Hills.” Exemptions would be allowed for small, community-scale wind farms used to supply power to towns, schools and agricultural operations in the area.
2. much tighter regulation of, and reduction in, the wholesale annual burning of the prairie.
3. a state recovery plan for the prairie chicken and a reduction in the hunting of prairie chickens until the population recovers.
4. large and genuine prairie parks that bring back unmanaged native plant species, bison and other native animal species.
5. improved, ecologically sound facilities for tourists such as hiking trails, campgrounds and educational centers (visitor centers).