Wildlife and Wind Farms: Conflicts and Solutions Book Review

Wildlife and Wind Farms: Conflicts and Solutions
Book Review by Merlin Tuttle
1/8/18

 

Wildlife and Wind Farms, Conflicts and Solutions, Volume 2, provides a summary of current conflicts and solutions involving the rapid growth of wind farms and their impacts on wildlife. Chapters by leading experts cover topics from turbine siting and mortality monitoring to, statistical evaluations and mitigation.

This is the second of two volumes, both edited by M.R. Perrow. They are thorough and authoritative, an important resource for professionals concerned with wind energy impacts on wildlife. Unfortunately, this is a complex subject, and industry has been slow to adopt many of the remedies reported. Issues for birds and bats differ significantly and typically require different solutions. This review emphasizes those involving bats.

Ridgetop turbines in West Virginia.

Early investigations often failed to account for searcher detectability or scavenger removal rates when calculating wildlife fatalities at wind farms. Such problems were exacerbated by long intervals between searches, during which most corpses were removed by scavengers or arthropods. Small corpses can virtually disappear to human view in even a few inches of vegetation, and most of a night’s kill can be removed by scavengers within hours, depending on local circumstances. Trained dogs have performed far better than humans in searching for kills, but few are used. Fatality detection is complicated and often debated.

 

The impact of scavenger removal is difficult to accurately document. Depending on local scavenger faunas, removal rates can vary greatly. Scavengers may also take time to discover a new food source, causing removal rates to change from week to week or year to year.

 

A turbine-killed hoary bat in West Virginia is nearly invisible even though it has fallen in plain sight.
The same bat circled in red.

Especially in the case of bats, no one knows how many may be permanently injured without detection. It is generally agreed that, early morning searches, are best for detecting bat fatalities prior to scavenger removal, but how often should these searches be conducted, and how can they avoid biases?  Calculations of scavenger removal rates can be affected in many ways. What if scavengers learn to follow human scent trails to birds or bats intentionally placed as surrogates to measure scavenger removal? Also, how can we be sure that surrogate corpses are as attractive as fresh kills? Most surrogates are frozen prior to use. By becoming less attractive with age, scavenger removal could be significantly underestimated.

Statistical adjustments, predictive models, and invaluable insights to the most apparent biases are provided in this publication. However, some are extremely difficult to document. It is still impossible to accurately predict population-level impacts. Even if all other variables were accurately measured, knowledge of actual population size of impacted species rarely, if ever exists. As noted, estimates often fall short of reality, and losses may already be unsustainable in many cases.

 

The chapter on mitigating bat collisions is thorough and enlightening. It reports the apparent futility of predicting bat risks based on pre-construction sampling because turbines appear to attract bats.

 

Ed Arnett searching for bats beneath ridgetop turbines in Pennsylvania. Such terrain is impossile to accurately search without the assistance of a trained dog. However, dogs are seldom used, potentially leading to significant underestimation of bat fatality.

Operational mitigation strategies that could significantly reduce bat mortality were reported as early as 2011. By slightly raising turbine cut-in speeds (the wind speeds at which turbines are permitted to spin for power production) above those set by manufacturers, bat mortality reductions of 50 to 93% are documented in this publication. By 2013, a German study of multiple sites, in different geographic regions, reported fatality reduction of 83% by including algorithms, such as season, time, and temperature.

 

 

 

Due to non-disclosure by power companies, few studies have reported amounts of power lost through such mitigation, but available evidence suggests less than 1%. Unfortunately, few companies, especially outside of Europe, have been willing to incorporate even these simple operational changes.

 

The possible use of acoustic deterrents has long been considered as a means of reducing bat mortality. However, the high frequency signals required for bats attenuate rapidly in air, making them ineffective in covering the large areas required to protect bats at wind turbines. By strategic placement of multiple transmitters on turbines, one study reduced mortality by 64%, but no ultrasonic deterrents are yet available for affordable commercial use. Changing turbine color to reduce attractiveness to insect prey, and use of electromagnetic signals have been proposed but appear unlikely to prove adequate.

Jessica Kerns examines hoary, red, and tri-colored bats, the most frequently killed species on this West Virginia ridge top. A 2004 study conservatively estimated that this 44-turbine wind farm killed between 1,300 and 2,000 bats in a six-week period. Yet, fatality monitoring was discontinued, and no remedial action was taken.

Threshold numbers of bat fatalities, allowed prior to required mitigation, are frequently negotiated as part of the permitting process. However, in my experience in North America they are commonly exceeded with minimal or no remedial action taken.

 

Protection of key habitat, such as hibernation caves, may be useful for endangered species like Indiana myotis (Myotis sodalis), that seldom have been killed by turbines, but this is ineffective for migratory tree-dwelling species such as hoary (Lasiurus cinereus) and red (L. borealis) bats. Despite the absence of population estimates, trends can be regionally monitored at diverse locations not associated with wind farms. Mitigation planning should support systematic, standardized monitoring for such trends. These should be considered in future planning.

Brian Cooper using radar to monitror bat activity near ridgetp turbines in West Virginia.

 

In reviewing current policies, I see a need for far more attention being paid to frequent fatalities of originally abundant species, rather than focusing almost exclusively on only occasionally killed endangered species. We cannot afford to ignore loss of still abundant bats like the Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis), that play key ecological roles, not to mention their invaluable benefits to agriculture. This species already faces thousands of turbines, and is one of the most vulnerable. Yet, there is no reliable long-term monitoring, either of fatality or population trends.

 

Major advances in methodology for reducing threats to bats are reported in this publication. Yet, as one of the pioneers in the search for solutions, I’m deeply disappointed to see how little implementation has occurred thus far. Scientists have made important discoveries. Nevertheless, already proven methods for mortality reduction far too often have been ignored by regulators and industry. Standardized regulations are urgently needed at national and international levels.

Jason Horn and Teresa Labriola, using three thermal imaging scopes trained on a single wind turbine to document bat interactions with turbines in West Virginia.

 

The current North American goal of reducing bat fatalities by 50% is inadequate. Without limiting the number of turbines that can be permitted, such goals offer unrealistic solutions, even if attained.

Though some companies should be applauded for their special efforts, there are few incentives for investing in wildlife. Many of the largest companies still ruthlessly ignore wildlife. However, by providing token financial support for solution-finding research, they lull an environmentally concerned public into complacency.

 

In my opinion, far more progress could be made if a fair-minded rating system were organized collaboratively by concerned industry and environmental representatives. Companies could be ranked according to their wildlife policies (i.e. cooperation in solution finding and the extent to which existing mitigation knowledge is implemented). They needn’t be perfect to rate higher than unconcerned competitors. Such information could be shared with green energy investment advisors, providing potentially strong incentives.

Get the book HERE!

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Book Review: Conservation and Ecology of Pennsylvania’s Bats

Book Review: Conservation and Ecology of Pennsylvania’s Bats
By Merlin Tuttle
3/16/17

Cal Butchkoski removing a big brown bat from a mist net during a Pennsylvania workshop.

Conservation and Ecology of Pennsylvania’s Bats, edited by C.M. Butchkoski, D.M. Reeder, G.G. Turner, and H.P. Whidden. 2017, is a publication of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science. Twenty-eight contributors cover a wide variety of conservation-relevant topics. It summarizes the key ecological and economic roles of bats and traces the history of bat research and conservation efforts in Pennsylvania, which has one of America’s finest records of conserving bats.

A Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperation Agreement is reported to have gained beneficial results. However, the environmental review process does not cover most of the state’s species. And at least one of the state’s largest companies has refused to participate. The potentially serious, yet inadequately documented wind energy impacts on bats remain as unresolved threats. (more…)

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The Power of Bat Photos

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Stellaluna was brilliantly written and beautifully illustrated by one of our first Bat Fans, Janell Cannon. It’s the story of a baby fruit bat who gets separated from its mother. Since publication in 1993 this book has been translated into 30 languages. Stellaluna is a classic that significantly helped to endear kids, big and small, to if not love bats, at least appreciate them better, much the same as Merlin’s photographs.

 

In fact, Janell credits Merlin’s 1986 National Geographic article “Gentle Flyers of the African Night,” about epauletted fruit bats, for inspiring Stellaluna.

Janell recently emailed Merlin to share one of her community presentations, explaining how much she appreciated free use of his website photos. We love, love, love this kind of feedback! It Illustrates one of the many ways our website photos are making a difference for bats. As Bat Fan numbers grow, we’re happy to see the wide variety of creative uses individuals and institutions are making of our website gallery. Please share with us how you’re using our photos in your corner of the world to make it better for bats and people. (more…)

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Field Guide to Amazonian Bats

The Field Guide to Amazonian Bats by Adria López-Baucells, Ricardo Rocha, Paulo Bobrowiec, Enrico Bernard, Jorge Palmeirim and Christoph Meyer is a giant step forward for the world’s most diverse bat assemblage. As one who has spent years identifying and photographing Amazonian bats, I’m exceedingly well impressed with all aspects of this publication, not just its clear and well-illustrated keys, but also with the quality and completeness of photos and the strong conservation orientation. I’m proud to have contributed in a small way.
-Merlin Tuttle

Please download and enjoy The Field Guide to Amazonian Bats!

Pictured is a spectral bat (Vampyrum spectrum), one of the many unique Amazonian bats. This is the largest New World bat, with a wingspan of nearly three feet. It is a carnivore that feeds on a wide variety of small vertebrates, including rats, birds and small oppossums. Mates appear to take turns hunting for food versus baby-sitting. They live in large, hollow trees.

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“Bats and Viruses” Book Review by Merlin Tuttle

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Bats and Viruses, edited by Lin-Fa Wang and Christopher Cowled, provides the first summary of current knowledge on how bats and viruses interact. It is an invaluable resource for all who are concerned about bats, whether from a public health or a conservation perspective. Given the rate of viral discovery it is commendably up-to-date.

 

Viral discoveries, distribution, potential for zoonoses, best practices, research biases and areas in need of further investigation are thoroughly covered.

Bats appear to serve as reservoir hosts for several of the world’s deadliest diseases. However, as noted, transmission to humans or their livestock is rare, and in most cases can be easily avoided. Advice not to eat bushmeat, handle unfamiliar animals, mix unquarantined wildlife in markets or plant fruit trees where flying foxes can be lured into close proximity to livestock is appreciated.

Numerous biases and possible misinterpretations are explained. Viral reservoirs cannot be confirmed based on mere presence of viruses or antibodies, and those found in bat guts or feces may come from insects or other foods. Also arthropods such as mosquitoes can simultaneously infect more than one species with identical zoonotic viruses, giving a false impression of transmission between incidental hosts.

(more…)

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“Bats in the Slats” by Thomas R. Ryan

photo (1)92-year-old Tom Ryan is our latest Bat Fan! He’s also the author of a new children’s book titled Bats in the Slats.

Written like a Dr. Seuss poem, Grampa Buzz teams up with a family of bats under his deck to get rid of the rats that are raiding his garden and making a mess.

Tom, the cool grampa that he is, wrote this bedtime story for his grandchildren’s amusement. He hopes through books like this, kids will see bats as heroes rather than villains. Now where have I heard that theme before?

Order a copy of Bats in the Slats for the holidays! Thank you, Tom!

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Good press for bats!

Minor epauletted bat (Epomophorous labiatus minor) from  Kenya. Hip hip hooray, more good press for bats! First the Wall Street Journal did a glowing review of Merlin’s book, “The Secret Lives of Bats,” and it made Amazon’s Top Ten of the Month list; then our hometown paper, the Austin American-Statesman wrote about the history of Austin’s bridge bats and the role Merlin played; and now an article by the Huffington Post about Merlin and his passion to reveal the truth about bats, the world’s most misunderstood mammal!

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The Bats of Trinidad and Tobago, A Field Guide and Natural History

 

Bats of Trinidad and Tobago is one of the finest books thus far published about bats. It is Bats of Trinidad and Tobago Coverthoroughly researched, provides comprehensive coverage of one of the world’s richest bat faunas and is outstandingly illustrated. It is an easy and fascinating read for the layperson yet will also serve as an essential reference work for professional bat biologists. Anyone interested in bats should own a copy.

Geoffrey Gomes is a leading Trinidadian naturalist who is also a self-taught expert on local bats. As a naturalist, he provides broad ecosystem insights and a wide variety of fun folklore and practical advice not often covered by traditional bat biologists. Fiona Reid is unsurpassed in her knowledge of Latin American bats, has authored a wide variety of books on mammals, and is internationally recognized as a leading wildlife illustrator, specializing in bats. Having spent substantial time in the field with both authors, I am well aware of the depth of their knowledge and delighted to highly recommend the outstanding result of their co-authored partnership.

This book provides thorough, jargon-free coverage of bat natural history with special emphasis on the essential ecosystem roles of bats. Readers will learn the benefits of conserving and living harmoniously with bats, overcome needless fear, find solutions to occasional nuisance problems and be endlessly fascinated by bat sophistications and contributions to human wellbeing. The entire book is lavishly and extraordinarily well illustrated. It is the only source for life-size illustrations of all 70 species of bats known from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago.

–By Merlin Tuttle

On the Trinibats website you can look inside the book and see some of Fiona’s life-size bat artwork, Merlin’s photographs (a couple of my own got in!) and also read some of the enthusiastic endorsements. When ordering your copy, please use the links below.

Geoffrey Gomes and Fiona Reid demonstrating bats to BCI members in Trinidad.
Geoffrey Gomes and Fiona Reid demonstrating bats to BCI members in Trinidad.
Book availability: 
www.batgoods.com — U.S. and Canada
Price: 40.00 USD
www.nhbs.com — Latin America, Caribbean (except Trinidad and Tobago), Europe, Africa, Asia-Pacific regions, and everywhere else. 
Price: 24.99 Pound Sterling

 

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Merlin’s Book and Bulgaria

After arriving home from South Africa on the 1st of May, Merlin immediately began work revising his manuscript titled Adventures of the Real Bat Man. Intended as a story-telling introduction to the amazing world of bats, it is now in press with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and the first round of editing has been completed. And there will be LOTS of bat photos in it! Prior to making final photo selections for the book, Merlin wants a few more photos of bats catching insects, one of the more difficult challenges in bat photography.

To that end, we leave tomorrow for Bulgaria. Merlin will provide a public bat lecture in Sofia at the British Consulate on Saturday. Then we’ll drive north from Sofia to the Siemers Bat Research Station in the village of Tabachka. Located near the Romanian border, and surrounded by hundreds of caves, the area supports 23 of Bulgaria’s 33 bat species. We’ll be joined in Sofia by bat research colleagues, Daniela Schmieder and Antonia Hubancheva, both of whom are exceptionally experienced in captive maintenance and training of insect-eating bats.

The combination of Dani and Toni’s special knowledge and help, bat research facilities and diverse and abundant bats, combined with enthusiastic invitations to visit, was too much for us to resist. We hope to have internet connections there, so stay tuned for progress reports!

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