Though wind farms and clean energy companies do the essential work of producing natural gas and renewable energy, they aren’t without pitfalls. Hundreds of thousands of bats and birds are killed each year by flying into the turbines. And consistently, workers have to search underneath to find and remove the dead creatures. Amanda Janicki and her two dogs Bria and Caffrey, known as Team Bat Dogs, are spearheading a new method for finding and removing bird and bat casualties.
Amanda started as an endangered species biologist, studying White-Nose Syndrome in school — a disease introduced to the United States from Europe that kills bats. She acquired her master’s degrees in biology, ecology and evolutionary biology, and spent 10 years mist-netting and radio tracking 16 species of bats across the U.S.
Amanda also has two Dutch Shepherds — Bria and Caffrey. Both regularly compete across the nation in agility, conformation, flyball, dock diving and weight pull—having qualified and competed at multiple national championships. For the last five years, Bria has joined Amanda in doing live bat trapping and tracking bat species.
Kevin Johnson (KJ Photography)
Amanda began working at an environmental consulting company that was contracted to perform wind turbine fatality searches. Clean energy companies are legally required to perform post-construction fatality searches for bats and birds — specifically species that are threatened or endangered. Workers walk under the turbines to look for fatalities on the gravel roads and pads. Crops and tall brush are also cut below the turbines to improve visibility for human searchers.
When Amanda was asked to train her dogs to find bats, she saw her worlds come together. As a trained wildlife detection dog, Caffrey has worked with Amanda for the last two years to conduct post-construction wind turbine searches. After a few projects, Amanda and Team Bat Dogs have refined and demonstrated a new, efficient, cost-effective method for assessing the ecological toll of wind farms.
“We’ve been doing this for a while now, and my dogs really enjoy it.” she said. “They love working with me and get rewarded with toys and treats. It's all a positive, fun game for them.”
Connie Fore (T & C Pet Photography)
Amanda and many others have found that humans are quite ineffective at performing fatality searches. Though it’s the typical method, relying on human eyes to distinguish small, brown creatures from the ground can be difficult.
Recently, dogs have been gaining popularity as seekers. Rather than having to cut or damage the crop for humans to walk, dogs can navigate it with ease. Low to the ground, using their nose and olfactory receptors, dogs are far more keen and effective in discovering and identifying bird and bat carcasses.
Last year, Amanda’s employer tested human searchers against dog search teams and found that the dogs had a much higher searcher efficiency rate than humans. Amanda’s work showed that dogs are a cost-effective solution for reducing search area and searcher efficiency adjustments, increasing the accuracy of bat fatality estimates.
"I think dogs are getting more popular in a range of conservation work because dogs are so much more efficient,” Amanda said. “Trying to get the regulators to take our results as the gold standard is where we're getting a little bit of pushback, because it's different than the conventional methods. They've been using humans for a long time.”
The need for effective fatality mitigation and conservation is pressing. Particularly during the Fall migration period, there are many bat fatalities. Amanda and her dogs have found up to seven species of bats and countless kinds of birds on the wind farms. She and others are working with energy companies to lessen fatality rates by turning off turbines during nighttimes, which are typically less windy, or producing sounds to deter bats away from the turbines.
"Hopefully in five years or so, working dogs will become the norm," Amanda said. "We'll do a better job of estimating fatalities overall and working with energy companies to lessen the fatality rate."Amanda and Team Bag Dogs are changing the future for ecological monitoring on wind farms. With their example and collaboration with other detection dog projects around the nation, they are working to make wind farms a more sustainable place. You can follow their journey on their Instagram or Facebook.