As Manitoba’s three species of hibernating bats are threatened by white-nose syndrome, you would think the other three species, who migrate south for the winter, could step in to fill the ecological void.
Unfortunately, migratory bat species in Manitoba face an entirely different threat: wind farms, which kill an estimated half-million bats every year in North America.
Manitoba’s three species of migratory bats — hoary, eastern red and silver-haired bats — are all at risk of lethal strikes from windmills, especially during the fall migration period, as the mammals fly south, said University of Winnipeg biologist Craig Willis.
For some reason, bat mortality is a lot lower in the spring, when bats are flying north. But this presents a potential solution to the problem, in the form of convincing power companies to not operate windmills on fall nights when winds are low enough for bats to fly, Willis said.
Wind farms generate much more energy, never mind higher profits, on windier nights. Shutting down a few nights in the fall may go a long way to saving bats, Willis said.
The wind-power industry, to its credit, acknowledges wind farms kill bats. The Canadian Wind Energy Association supports more research to determine precisely which wind speeds could serve as an operating threshold, technical affairs manager Tom Levy said from Ottawa.
“Obviously, the industry is going to have to get a handle on the economics,” he said, pledging only to study the idea of shutting down during fall bat migration. “The benefit has to be considered in that perspective.”
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2012 A6