Renewable Energy & Winged Creatures


We knew  that the intersection between renewable energy and birds can be problematic, so we thank Emma Foehringer Merchant for this look at one initiative to address it:

Wanted: Dead Birds and Bats, Felled by Renewables

Scientists say collecting, studying, and storing the carcasses from wind and solar facilities can unlock new insights.

“This is one of the least smelly carcasses,” said Todd Katzner, peering over his lab manager’s shoulder as she sliced a bit of flesh from a dead pigeon lying on a steel lab table. The specimens that arrive at this facility in Boise, Idaho, are often long dead, and the bodies smell, he said, like “nothing that you can easily describe, other than yuck.”

A wildlife biologist with the US Geological Survey, a government agency dedicated to environmental science, Katzner watched as his lab manager rooted around for the pigeon’s liver and then placed a glossy maroon piece of it in a small plastic bag labeled with a biohazard symbol. The pigeon is a demonstration specimen, but samples, including flesh and liver, are ordinarily frozen, cataloged, and stored in freezers. The feathers get tucked in paper envelopes and organized in filing boxes; the rest of the carcass is discarded. When needed for research, the stored samples can be processed and sent to other labs that test for toxicants or conduct genetic analysis.

Most of the bird carcasses that arrive at the Boise lab have been shipped from renewable energy facilities, where hundreds of thousands of winged creatures die each year in collisions with turbine blades and other equipment. Clean energy projects are essential for confronting climate change, said Mark Davis, a conservation biologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. But he also emphasized the importance of mitigating their effects on wildlife. “I’m supportive of renewable energy developments. I’m also supportive of doing our best to conserve biodiversity,” Davis said. “And I think the two things can very much coexist.”

To this end, Katzner, Davis, and other biologists are working with the renewable energy industry to create a nationwide repository of dead birds and bats killed at wind and solar facilities. The bodies hold clues about how the animals lived and died, and that could help scientists and project operators understand how to reduce the environmental impact of clean energy installations, Davis said.

The repository needs sustained funding and support from industry partners to supply the specimens. But the collection’s wider potential is vast, Davis added. He, Katzner, and other stakeholders hope the carcasses will offer a wide array of wildlife biologists access to the animal samples they need for their work, and perhaps even provide insights into future scientific questions that researchers haven’t thought yet to ask.

Read the whole article here.

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