Environmental concerns continue to be ignored regarding the Stony Creek Wind Farm proposal in Orangeville.
The town of Orangeville is located between Erie and Livingston counties, both of which have confirmed cases of white-nose syndrome which is killing thousands of bats. Little brown bats, our most common species, have the highest mortality after contracting the disease. Bats are an essential part of our ecosystem. The death of our crucial bat populations will cause a considerable ecological ripple effect, with potentially far-reaching consequences.
Orangeville is also the location of one of the largest forested areas in Western New York. Letters sent to the Orangeville Town Board in April 2010 from U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the town’s engineering firm Stantec and citizens of Orangeville regarding environmental concerns and bat mortality have yet to be read by the Town Board. When concerns were presented to the Town Board the response was simply, “Thank you, we’ll give it to the town attorney.” Shouldn’t elected officials be concerned or at least interested when residents take the time to present new environmental information?
Scientists and conservation groups have filed a formal request asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine if little brown bats, once the most common bat species in the Northeast, need protection under the Endangered Species Act because of a fast-spreading, lethal disease called white-nose syndrome. The disease has already killed more than a million bats in the United States and scientists say it could wipe out little brown bats in the Northeast within the next two decades.
According to Bat Conservation International’s Bats, Vol 27, No. 3, Fall 2009 [click here to download], tens of thousands of bats are being killed at wind farms in the eastern United States each year in collisions with the spinning turbine blades and from related causes.
Why should we care about bats? According to Dr. Thomas H. Kunz, Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology at Boston University, the bat die-off has caused significant concern among biologists and conservation groups, not only because of potential extinction of one or more species but also because the night-flying mammals play a critical role in keeping insect populations in check. Based on earlier work by Kunz and others, scientists estimate that the loss of bats due to white-nose syndrome has, to date, meant approximately 700 fewer tons of insects consumed per year, including many pests that attack farm crops and commercial timber. One consequence of fewer bats may be greater use of pesticides.
The mortality risk to bats posed by wind turbines through collision risk and barotrauma risk is well documented. There have been thousands of documented little brown bat deaths despite the limited nature of post-construction monitoring occurring at operating wind facilities like Wethersfield, Eagle and Sheldon. The perilous decline of the little brown bat from white-nose syndrome is further exacerbated by habitat destruction and fragmentation of the species’ range, making the species even more susceptible to extinction.
Our goal is to protect the bat population now and for the future in Orangeville. The U.S Fish and Wildlife responded immediately stating that the subject of white-nose syndrome was raised in our DEIS letter and continues to be a high priority. Hopefully, the issue of cumulative impacts to bats from all sources of mortality will be seriously considered by the Orangeville Town Board.
Nyla Wilkinson lives in Orangeville.
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