A little investigation and a number of phone calls by BCI science assistant Tracey Tarlton recently resulted in emergency protection for 11 bat hibernation caves on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in the Roswell Resource Area of New Mexico. At least seven species of bats use the caves for hibernation, including two proposed for federal endangered listing.
BCI was first alerted to the situation by Dave Gose, a BCI member and president of Friends of Bats New Mexico, a caving group who had been approached by the BLM to help conduct monthly bat surveys in the caves. BLM management policies also allowed for one guided recreational trip each month during the hibernation season. Gose, who recognized that bats should not be disturbed during hibernation, called BCI for advice.
Hibernating bats are exceptionally vulnerable. When forced to waken prematurely they begin to burn the limited fat they have stored to last until spring and may die as a result. Since caves with appropriate temperature and humidity requirements are rare, it is vital to bat survival that such roosts remain undisturbed.
When BCI informed the BLM of how critical it is not to disturb hibernating bats, they agreed to investigate. After gathering additional information, they responded quickly by closing the caves containing hibernating bats. In addition, they have drafted an amendment to current management plans calling for permanent closure of these caves during the hibernation season. The amendment also provides bat
-sensitive guidelines for monitoring cave populations every other year and calls for implementing a bat ecology program for area schools and organizations.
Pending publication in the Federal Register, the closure is not yet official, but the emergency measures will be in effect when the bats return this winter to hibernate. BCI is also coordinating efforts to provide training in proper bat survey techniques so that local cavers and BLM biologists can work together to ensure that the bats of these caves and others will not be unnecessarily disturbed.