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Cornell helps set research agenda for how to protect birds, bats from wind turbines

Thirty top wildlife scientists -- including five from Cornell -- have announced agreement on some of the highest research priorities to help America's rapidly growing wind energy industry produce much-needed alternative energy while also providing safe passage for birds and bats.

This coalition of scientists from industry, government, nongovernmental organizations and universities met recently in Racine, Wisc., to address unanswered questions about how continued wind energy development will affect migrating birds and bats. The meeting was hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the American Bird Conservancy and the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread.

"Billions of birds migrate annually, taking advantage of the same wind currents that are most beneficial for producing wind energy," said Andrew Farnsworth, a postdoctoral research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who serves on the steering committee of the coalition. "We know that in some locations a small percentage of wind turbines may cause the majority of bird and bat deaths. As wind power develops further, we need to know more about how placement, design and operation impact birds and bats as well as how habitat and weather conditions affect potential hazards," he said.

The scientists addressed some of the critical information that could be collected using such cutting-edge tools as weather surveillance radar, thermal imaging and microphones directed skyward to map migrations by day and night. New research will build upon monitoring and research studies of birds and bats before and after construction of existing wind energy facilities as well as work done by other researchers.

"Conducting this research will help the wind industry make informed, science-based decisions about where future wind energy projects can be built and how they can be operated to minimize the impact on migrating wildlife, while still providing much-needed alternative energy," said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who also attended the meeting with Chris Clark, director of the lab's Bioacoustics Research Program; Kenneth Rosenberg, director of the lab's Conservation Science Program; and Martin Piorkowski, a biologist and project coordinator for the lab. "It will also help flesh out specific guidelines for wind farm construction being developed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."

The coalition, which appointed working groups to move this new research agenda forward, identified such top research priorities as:

"Imagine if a similar effort had taken place at the turn of the 20th century with the auto industry and air quality," added Kraig Butrum, president and CEO of the American Wind Wildlife Institute, an umbrella organization for the wind energy industry and environmental groups. "We'd probably be in a completely different place when it comes to global climate change and energy dependence, because we considered environmental impact from the start."

Patricia Leonard is a staff writer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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