Wind farms must honor their bat conservation commitments

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

Most people don’t like bats.

They’re weird little creatures caught between mammal and bird, with leathery wings, creepy claws and pointed teeth. They’ve been known to get tangled in hair. They can often carry rabies. And they produce a significant amount of guano.

But despite their unsettling appearance and havoc-causing behavior, bats actually play a vital role in the natural ecosystems in which they live.

Some plants rely on bats for pollination, particularly in bananas, peaches and cashews. Their droppings can act as a great fertilizer and spreads seed across wide areas. And they eat millions of night-flying insects and agricultural pests, an important service to farmers and those who detest bugs.

For all these reasons, bats are actually our friends, not some Halloween or horror movie villain. And we should care about what happens to them.

One of the biggest unnatural enemies to bats of late has been the proliferation of wind farms. Between 600,000 and 900,000 bats are killed in the United States each year by wind turbines. They can be killed by collisions with spinning blades or through barotraumas, which is when they suffer internal injuries when passing through the low-pressure zones created by turbines.

Bats are an unfortunate casualty of our search for clean and reliable energy sources. And some of the rarest species are being affected.

Last year, three endangered bats – two Indiana bats and one northern long-eared bat – were found to have been killed by turbines. There could be more.

Three bats may not seem like much. But to endangered species already devastated by the white-nose fungal disease, three deaths are significant.

Wind energy companies are eligible to apply for Incidental Take Permits, which allow the firm to legally kill a small number of endangered species each year. In exchange, the companies agree to slow or stop turbines at night — when bats are most active — and set aside acreage for bat habitats. The aim is to offset a few losses by preventing more widespread deaths.

The agreement seems a good compromise between animal conservation and allowing wind companies to operate economically. But wind companies must continue holding up their part of the deal.

Without protections and these types of conservation efforts, the Indiana and long-eared bats could go from endangered to extinct.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.