Bats dying in worrying numbers at Appalachian wind farms

Unexpectedly high numbers of bat deaths at wind farms in West Virginia and Pennsylvania have caught scientists by surprise and made conservationists anxious. Whether the spinning turbines entice the bats or confuse their sonar navigation is unclear, but researchers say an estimated 1,500 to 4,000 bats may have perished in the blades of 44 turbines at one farm in West Virginia in 2004. And with some 700 new turbines proposed for the region this year, bat lovers are especially worried. “Take the most conservative estimates of mortality and multiply them out by the number of turbines planned and you get very large, probably unsustainable kill rates,” says Merlin D. Tuttle of Bat Conservation International. “One year from now we could have a gigantic problem.” (Not to mention a gigantic mess.) Lest you scoff at the demise of these spooky winged mammals, keep in mind that bats eat mosquitoes and other insects that damage crops and spread disease. Researchers and the wind industry hope to find ways to make turbines less of a threat to bats as well as birds.