Trees at Enterprise South called key habitat for bats

Trees at Enterprise South called key habitat for bats

April 10th, 2013 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

Jim WIlson, foreman of Chattanooga's urban forestry division, left, and Bruce Richie prepare to cut down a Shagbark Hickory tree in Enterprise South Tuesday afternoon. The trees are being cut down to deter Indiana Bats from residing in the bark this summer as a retention pond is constructed in the park.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should public funds support bat habitats?

BAT MYTHS

• Do all bats carry rabies?

No, the rate of rabies in bats is incredibly low, especially compared to other common mammals, such as raccoons.

• Do bats attack humans and suck their blood?

No, there are three species of vampire bat. They are native to Mexico and Central and South America. All 16 species of bats that live in Tennessee eat insects.

• Are bats blind?

Again, no. In addition to having exceptional vision, hearing and olfactory senses, bats use echolocation to navigate in the dark.

BATS FOUND IN TENNESSEE

• Little brown bat

• Southeastern bat

• Gray bat

• Northern long-eared bat

• Indiana bat

• Eastern small-footed bat

• Tri-colored bat

• Big brown bat

• Rafinesque's big-eared bat

• Townsend's big-eared bat

• Eastern red bat

• Seminole bat

• Hoary bat

• Silver-haired bat

• Evening bat

• Brazilian free-tailed bat

Bats identified as affected by white-nose syndrome

• Little brown bat

• Eastern small-footed bat

• Northern long-eared bat

• Indiana bat

• Gray bat

• Big brown bat

• Tri-colored bat

Source: Mollie Matteson, bat conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity

David Galloway is not a wildlife biologist. He doesn't work for a nature conservatory, and he's not what he would call "bat crazy."

But the recent discovery of the bat epidemic called white-nose syndrome in Fern Cave in nearby northern Alabama -- and Hamilton County's decision to fell some 54 trees labeled potential roosting sites for the endangered Indiana bat -- have the East Ridge resident concerned.

"I just have a natural interest [in bats], and the fact that white-nose is going around -- people should go out and get bat houses," Galloway said.

White-nose syndrome is caused by a fungus that grows on bats while they are hibernating, according to Mollie Matteson, bat conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

So far, some 7 million bats in the U.S. and Canada have been killed by the disease, she said.

Now the effect of the disease on bat populations is beginning to show up in local coffers.

The announcement Monday of white-nose in North Alabama came after Hamilton County commissioners last week entered an agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to pay $17,982 to an Indiana bat conservation fund to mitigate the felling of 54 trees to make way for a storm water runoff facility at Enterprise South industrial park.

The trees were potential Indiana bat roosting sites, according to the agreement.

Bats typically roost in trees with exfoliating, or peeling, bark. Sometimes that includes dead trees, but one living species is the shagbark hickory, which takes decades to grow.

County Engineer Todd Leamon said the county became aware of the trees when it renewed permits to complete the second phase of the Enterprise South development in 2009. Before then, the Indiana bat had not been regulated in the permitting process in this region, he said.

Mary Jennings, field office supervisor for U.S. Fish & Wildlife in Cookeville, Tenn., said her office worked with the county to mitigate the loss, which she said was not large enough to warrant barring the county from completing its project.

She said the state's Indiana bat conservation fund is in its infancy.

Right now, the Kentucky office is holding Tennessee's funds until Jennings finds a Tennessee nonprofit organization to be custodian of the funds.

After that, a steering committee will be formed to decide how the money is spent.

"These funds will be specifically for Tennessee, and we will try to keep the projects as close to the impact as possible," Jennings said.

Some of those projects might include land conservation easements for bat habitats, other land purchases and cave gating -- which protects hibernating bats from human disturbance, Jennings said.

Some of the money may be used to attach radio transmitters to hibernating bats, then track their movements later in the year, she said.

"The fund is pretty limitless, as long as it's filling a recovery need," Jennings said.

As of Tuesday, Jennings said, Hamilton County is one of 12 agencies with agreements with U.S. Fish & Wildlife in the state.

Why help bats?

Just by existing, bats save U.S. farmers an estimated $22 billion a year in pest control, Matteson said.

"That's the greatest economic value bats have to us," she said.

Aside from saving crops and killing bad bugs, Matteson says bats should be protected for their unique nature.

"They are the only flying mammal. In terms of looking at echolocation and flight, we can learn from studying bats," she said.

The leading causes of shrinking bat populations in the U.S. are white-nose syndrome, loss of habitat and direct human activity, Matteson said.

In a way, she said, they are all intertwined.

For instance, Matteson said researchers believe the white-nose fungus was brought to the U.S. by Europeans visiting American caves. In Europe, bats develop white-nose, but they seem to be unaffected by the fungus, she said.

Galloway was given a bat house as a gift, and he's hoping some 60 bats will use it to roost once they come out of hibernation this month.

"I'm trying to attract them because the mosquitos were so bad last year," he said.

Matteson said she wishes more people would follow Galloway's lead. She said bats are critical to pest control.

It's very simple. Bats eat bugs, and bugs eat crops and spread disease.

"Bats are the only predators feeding on these night-flying insects. The birds are the day shift, so to speak, but the bats take over at night," Matteson said.

Many night-flying insects -- such as mosquitoes -- are the bugs that affect people the most, she said.

According to Matteson, one bat can eat up to 1/4 ounce -- half its weight -- of insects a night. That may not seem like much, but the 7 million bats that have been killed by white-nose syndrome are no longer eating nearly 50 metric tons of insects per night. That's a big impact, Matteson said.