Story Of The Week 3/7/2017

For the Bats

By Dylan O'Leary, Field Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator with The Nature Conservancy

During the summer of 2015 I tore my ACL playing soccer. As an aspiring field biologist and avid outdoor adventure enthusiast, this was more of an emotional/mental injury than physical. Unable to hike or participate in any physical activity more intense than trekking to the bathroom, I decided to wage war against my situation. The problem was simple: how could I still make a difference and contribute to conservation efforts from the confines of my couch? Restless beyond belief, I racked my brain (and google) for a project that could save me from this cushiony hell…

One animal in particular had been on my mind for some time: bats! Since 2006, it’s been estimated that bat populations in the northeast have declined by nearly 80%.  is the cold hearted perpetrator; thriving in cooler climates, this fungus has no problem growing on the skin of hibernating bats causing them to wake up and burn vital fat reserves. The emaciated bats starve and freeze to death as they try in vain to hunt for insects in the dead icy world they were never meant to see. It is suspected that humans transported the fungus from Eurasia and now it has spread to 30 US states and 5 Canadian Provinces. These amazing flying mammals need all the help they can get!

But how? Examining the life history of bats, we know that they hibernate in large caves called hibernacula during winter months and then distribute across the land to their summer roosting areas where they feed on insects and raise their pups. Making sure these bats have nice summer homes where they can grow fat and happy before the long winter sleep is critical to their success. But what is a suitable bat home and how can you make one? Luckily, Bat Conservation International (batcon.org) has blueprints for all your bat home needs! I ended up building two 4 chambered nursery style bat houses from scrap wood I found in the garage. Great but, now where do I put them?

Fast forward a year to October 2016. It was my second exciting month of service with VHCB AmeriCorps and my host site, The Nature Conservancy, was providing me with all kinds of awesome opportunities. One afternoon, my site supervisor forwards an email from the VT Fish and Wildlife small mammals biologist who is asking for last minute help with some bat trapping later that night. It was an hour away from quitting time and I was looking forward to some post work goofing off, but this was a chance to see the furry little dudes up close and personal!

During the five hours of trapping, the biologist and I got to talking about a covered bridge in Cornwall that had burned down and how it was the roosting site for ~200 bats. She said they had just installed a bat house (!!!) and I of course chimed in about my own bat condominiums. Turns out, the area around the bridge is prime habitat for bats and the more houses, the merrier. But it gets even better…this is on The Nature Conservancy’s property!

A month later, I had coordinated with VT Fish and Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy and the VT Agency of Transportation (who generously donated a 16’ post and volunteered two staff to help with the effort) to install the two new bat condos, with a total housing potential of 400 bats. I was elated! Initiated by the negative energy of an injury but channeled into the hope of conservation, this small effort was an awesome and meaningful journey for me. I think there can sometimes be a serious disconnect between society and the natural world; it’s certainly not always easy or clear what we as everyday citizens can do to help. I am no exception. But when I need some motivation, I just remember what Dr. Seuss once wrote: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” I can’t wait to see who shows up in the springtime!

VHCB AmeriCorps is a program of the
Vermont Housing & Conservation Board.

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