A repowering project at the Altamont Pass will reduce raptor kills, but the news may not be so good for bats.
North America's deadliest wind farm is getting a makeover. In February, Florida company NextEra completed the first phase of a four-year process to replace nearly 2,000 turbines, roughly half the total number distributed over Altamont Pass' 50,000 acres, with supersize new turbines projected to reduce bird deaths by up to 80 percent. As many as 10,000 birds currently meet their fate among the windmills every year.
Absent from these calculations, however, is an entire class of species: bats. Scientists don't have a clue as to how many bats are currently being killed by Altamont's spinning blades, but some evidence suggests that the new, taller turbines are worse, not better, for the flying mammals.
In fact, bats are under siege nationwide. Bat populations in the Eastern US and Canada are already decimated by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease making a seemingly inexorable march toward the West. It has killed nearly seven million bats in North America and is considered the worst wildlife disease epidemic in the continent's history. After being discovered in upstate New York in late 2006, white-nose syndrome registered its first cases west of the Mississippi earlier this month.
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