Wind turbines are killing endangered bats much faster than anybody thought, according to a new University of California study that warns hoary bats could go extinct if nothing is done.
The new study found the endangered hoary bat populations could decline by 90 percent in the next 50 years as more wind turbines are built. The study’s results suggest building wind turbines poses a substantial threat to migratory bats in North America.
Hoary bats were listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1970, and are Hawaii’s only native land mammal. Population estimates of the bats for all islands range from a few hundred to a few thousand, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). The research was supported by FWS and the U.S. Forest Service.
“This new study is a clear warning signal that action is needed before the hoary bat population plummets and needs heroic measures to prevent its extinction,” Jamie Rappaport Clark, president of the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife which was not involved in the study, said in a statement. “Defenders of Wildlife will work with the wind energy industry and other conservation partners over the next year to tackle this issue, so that these dire predictions never become reality.
Hawaii’s five major wind turbine farms are killing endangered bats about three times faster than anyone predicted.
Wind farms killed more bats in the last 6.4 years than experts expected the turbines to kill over two decades. The wind farms have killed 146 endangered Hawaiian hoary bats out of the 187 they are permitted to kill by 2030. The same turbines have also killed roughly 50 nene, an endangered goose and Hawaii’s state bird.
Wind farms kill an estimated 573,000 birds each year, as well as 888,000 bats, according to a 2013 peer-reviewed study published in Wildlife Society Bulletin. Wind farms are projected to kill 1.4 million birds annually by 2030. A single solar power plant in California killed an estimated 3,500 birds in just the plant’s first year of operation.
Wind farms in North Carolina were forced to pay a $1 million fine for killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds in 2013. An Oregon-based wind power company was fined $2.5 million for killing 38 eagles in 2015. Modern wind turbines create a powerful vortex that literally sucks eagles and other birds into them.
To put those numbers in perspective, the 2010 British Petroleum Gulf of Mexico oil spill only killed an estimated 800,000 birds, for which the company was fined $100 million. In the last five years, America’s wind turbines killed more than three times as many birds as the BP oil spill did.
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