Volume 12, Issue 4, Winter 1994

Conservation Initiatives Ensure Continued Progress


By Taylor, Daniel A.R.



WHEN THE huge steel cage was lowered over the shaft of the Millie Hill Mine near Iron Mountain, Michigan, late in the summer of 1993, it not only signified the successful protection of the country's second largest bat hibernation site [BATS, Winter 1993], but also marked the beginning of an ambitious bat conservation effort encompassing much of the country. Across the United States and Canada, thousands of abandoned mines have been, and are being, closed for safety reasons without first assessing their importance to bats. Evidence suggests that such closures have already resulted in the loss of millions of bats.

The bats of Millie Hill were more fortunate. They were discovered shortly before the mine was going to be sealed forever, underscoring what had been known for some time: abandoned underground mines in the Great Lakes Region harbor some of the world's largest populations of hibernating bats. Action was urgently needed to ensure that the reclamation of mines in this region also accounted for the critical needs of bats.

Following the protection of Millie Hill, many federal and state natural resource managers throughout the Great Lakes Region expressed interest in learning how they too could maintain critical habitat for bats, while safeguarding the public from the hazards of abandoned mines. It quickly became
apparent that such an undertaking not only required special skills and knowledge, but also the cooperation and coordination of many individuals, agencies, organizations, and the mining industry itself. To expedite the process and provide the necessary information, BCI offered to help by developing a special training workshop to address bat habitat and abandoned-mine problems in the Great Lakes Region.

The effort was initiated as part of the North American Bats and Mines Project, a cooperative undertaking between BCI and the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Established earlier this year [BATS, Spring 1994], the partnership was formed to create a rapid response to this critical conservation issue on a nationwide basis. The BLM has taken a strong leadership role by providing a matching grant to support the project, and additional support has come from a Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant, which matched private-donor funds.

The workshop was co-hosted with BCI by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Cleveland-Cliffs, Inc., a nationally important mining company with strong roots in the region. Held this October in Iron Mountain, Michigan, the intensive two-day event brought some of the country's leading experts on bats and mine assessment together with natural resource managers and conservationists from the Great Lakes Region. Over 40 people representing the Departments of Natural Resources of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota attended, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service,* several of Michigan's county mine inspectors, and key representatives from the mining industry. Many participants learned for the first time how important bats are to local ecosystems and how important abandoned mines are to bats.

The workshop discussed techniques to assess abandoned mines as bat habitat and, if bats are discovered, what the alternatives are to total closure of a mine. One of the most important outcomes of the workshop was helping to foster communication between those responsible for mine reclamation and those responsible for wildlife protection. As participants reported on the status of their conservation efforts or abandoned mine-land management activities, it became clear that there were many opportunities for sharing skills and resources among agencies and the government and private sector. A round-table discussion on strategies for cooperation in mine closure and bat conservation programs provided a foundation for future collaboration.

Another important benefit of the workshop was to foster communication and cooperation that otherwise may not have occurred. As an example, participants from Wisconsin, representing several agencies, put together an informal bat conservation committee, and Ray Rustem of the Michigan DNR's Heritage Program called an impromptu meeting of the Michigan participants to coordinate bat conservation efforts in that state as well.

Merlin Tuttle opened the workshop with a discussion on the ecological importance of bats and the critical importance of mines as bat habitat. After a session on mine safety from Paul Carlson of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, Scott Altenbach, a University of New Mexico bat biologist with extensive experience in mine exploration and assessment for bats, shared his knowledge on mine survey protocols. Allen Kurta, a regional expert on bats from Eastern Michigan University, discussed the natural history and distribution of bats in the Great Lakes Region, using museum specimens of bats to introduce participants to species identification. Robert Currie, a wildlife biologist and noted expert on mine and cave protection from the Asheville Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, talked about mine-gating techniques that protect both human safety and bats. His discussion of failures and successes revealed that, while much has been learned about gating techniques and design, much remains to be learned about the tolerance of specific species to bat gates.

The second day focused on the legal aspects of mine closures and bat protection. John Meier, Director of Environmental Affairs for Cleveland-Cliffs, emphasized that participants needed to be aware of the liabilities and responsibilities involved in exploration of abandoned mines and use of exclusion devices, such as bat gates. But he also said that bat friendly gates are likely to be significantly less costly than permanently sealing a mine by backfilling or other means, and that bats should be protected and their habitat expanded. Providing some humor to the proceedings, he noted that at first he was somewhat nervous being in the same room with so many conservationists and agencies with regulatory power over the mining industry, but went on to say that he was reassured to discover that all participants shared the common goal of maintaining a healthy economy and a safe environment for people and wildlife. He pledged that Cleveland-Cliffs will be on the lookout for ways to help bats.
The workshop concluded with visits to the Millie Hill Mine to inspect the steel cage and to see the Cyclops Mine site, an abandoned iron mine housing tens of thousands of hibernating bats. The Michigan DNR plans to protect this site also.

As a result of the two-day event, the wheels have now been set in motion in the Great Lakes Region to help ensure that abandoned mines that prove to be critical bat hibernacula are protected. New reports of mines being used by bats are already coming to the attention of the Michigan DNR. The DNR has also developed plans to conduct mine surveys this winter at several key sites. Additional assessments will be coordinated with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Michigan and will be an interagency effort to conduct a broad survey of mines in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and to protect those used by bats.

A GREAT DEAL OF progress has been made since the North American Bats and Mines Project was officially begun this past spring. BCI and its partners will conduct at least four additional workshops in 1995 under the auspices of the project. These will include workshops with the BLM in Nevada, Wyoming, and Idaho, and a workshop in Montana with the state Abandoned Mine Land Bureau. In addition, Bats and Mines, a special technical publication being produced by BCI, will be ready for distribution by the first of the year. Designed for natural-resource managers and others responsible for making decisions to reclaim abandoned mines, the publication contains the most up-to-date information on bat-mine habitat relationships and mine assessment and closure techniques that protect bats. The production of Bats and Mines is being supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM, Forest Service, and Natural Resources Conservation Service, with input and review from the country's leading experts on the issue.

This past summer, BCI produced two copies of a traveling exhibit, which introduces viewers to the bats and mines issue. The exhibits have already been used at the annual convention of the American Mining Congress in Phoenix, Arizona, and at the first annual meeting of the National Wildlife Society in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Both generated tremendous interest. In addition, the exhibit was presented at the annual meeting of the Abandoned Mine Land Programs Conference in Park City, Utah, which included a keynote address by Merlin Tuttle. As a result of these efforts, hundreds of people in industry and government have become aware that this is an urgent and serious conservation issue, which will help boost support for bats.

BCI also hosted a meeting in September with executives from the U.S. Bureau of Mines. The meeting resulted in a commitment to pursue several cooperative projects, including the development of training workshops designed for Bureau of Mines employees. Another exciting possibility discussed was to develop techniques for the mining industry to create bat roost habitat as part of active none reclamation plans.

The closure of abandoned mines in the United States is continuing at a crisis rate for bats. The work of assessing mines and protecting those used by bats has only just begun. But with the help of dedicated individuals and collaboration with both the government and the mining industry, the North American Bats and Mines Project is laying a strong foundation for success. The outcome of these efforts will have significant implications for the welfare of bat populations and ecosystems both nationally and internationally.
Daniel A.R. Taylor, a wildlife biologist, is director of BCI's North American Bats and Mines Project.

(Footnote 1)
* Formerly Soil Conservation Service.

In the Great Lakes Region, little brown bats rely heavily on abandoned mines for hibernation. Some sites draw millions of bats from surrounding states, as well as Canada.

Above:In response to an urgent need for action to protect bat populations in mines, BCI developed and hosted a workshop addressing bat-mine issues in the Great Lakes Region. The well-attended event was co-hosted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and by Cleveland-Cliffs, a mining company. John Meier of Cleveland-Cliffs was one of a number of experts addressing specific issues.

Below:Each winter, the abandoned Cyclops Mine shelters some 70,000 hibernating bats. The Michigan Department Of Natural Resources plans to protect this site with a bat gate to prevent further disturbance to the bats.

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