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Windmills, 600,000; Bats, 0

Let’s face it: wind power is bat—- crazy.  As we’ve noted here before, windmills are the Cuisinarts of the sky, with an avian mortality rate that would shut down any other industry.  (Quick question: which kills more birds: wind power, or offshore oil spills?  Wind power takes the prize by orders of magnitude.)

A new report says that windmills in the U.S. killed an estimated 600,000 bats last year.  I had always heard the number was around 10,000.  We’re worried these days about the collapse of honey bee populations, but the collapse of the bat population could disturb the ecological balance, too. But like many environmental worries, we really don’t know the dimensions of the problem:

A new study published in the journal BioScience estimates that more than 600,000 bats died from interactions with wind turbines in the continental United States last year alone. Given the various issues bats have had with deadly white-nose syndrome, climate change, and that they generally only give birth to a single bat pup a year, this is a worry. How much of a worry is unknown, writes author Mark A. Hayes, a bat biologist at the University of Colorado-Denver: Since their subjects are small and nocturnal, researchers don’t have a good handle on how many bats are in the U.S.

Hayes told CBS News that his estimate of bat fatalities is “probably conservative”:

The numbers could be even higher, Hayes notes, because many bat carcasses are likely carried away by scavenging animals before the researchers are able to collect them.

But since we don’t know, wouldn’t the “precautionary principle” tell us to impose a moratorium on further windmill installations?

JOHN adds: Species wax and wane for reasons that are often obscure. I happen to like bats, so I have paid attention to them over the years. Both the house where we formerly lived in Minneapolis and the place where we live now in the suburbs used to be full of bats. If we sat on the deck at dusk, we would see any number of them. (If you think that sounds unusual, perhaps you just haven’t been paying attention to your own neighborhood around dusk in the summer.) That changed suddenly two years ago; the last two summers, we are lucky if we see one or two bats in an evening. Does that have anything to do with windmills? I doubt it, but for whatever reason, the local bat population is definitely down.

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