Twenty years ago, bats were about as likely as rattlesnakes or rats to be included in conservation planning. Like those despised creatures, some countries specifically classified bats as vermin -- beyond even a hint of protection. In fact, biologists themselves often feared bats as public health threats rather than valuing them as beneficial allies.
In the early days of BCI, leaders of wildlife agencies and private conservation groups logically questioned the importance of bats since trusted biologists were often unaware of their benefits. Bats faced a double obstacle: Their unpopularity made them the world's least-studied mammals, and without knowledge to document their values, bats ranked near the bottom of most conservation priority lists.
BCI's Bat Conservation and Management Workshops were founded specifically to address this vexing challenge. Biologists, educators, and conservationists were invited to intensive five-day field-training sessions on the values and needs of bats. The workshops develop the skills needed to study, conserve, and teach others about bats. Workshop scholarships were awarded to those in positions of special influence.
Today, more than 1,362 Bat Conservation and Management Workshop graduates are scattered among 17 countries. In the United States alone, they represent 48 states, 23 federal agencies, and 198 educational institutions, private conservation organizations, and corporations.
Largely because of their enthusiasm and assistance, BCI has trained more than 1,500 additional participants in specialized workshops that range from protecting bat caves to educating schoolchildren. Nothing in the history of bat conservation has had greater impact for conserving bats.
Workshop graduates are now enthusiastically studying and conserving bats and educating people about bats around the globe. And every year, our workshops add still more professionals to this growing network of bat advocates. Some have made enormous contributions, including those profiled here.
Hundreds of thousands of bats around the world are living comfortably under bridges and inside culverts because Mark Bloschock and BCI joined forces. The Texas Department of Transportation engineer was a key player in developing special bat-friendly designs for new bridges and culverts and simple, low-cost modifications for old ones. And he has for years been explaining to colleagues around the United States and in other countries why welcoming bats makes good sense.
Bats caught Bloschock's attention in the early 1980s, when his Austin hometown faced near-panic over a large colony of bats that moved in under a recently renovated downtown bridge. He began to understand the benefits of bats after reading Merlin Tuttle's America's Neighborhood Bats. A BCI workshop hardened his commitment. The Austin bridge, not coincidentally, is now a major tourist attraction and a pride of the city.
Bloschock convinced TxDOT to finance BCI's Texas Bats and Bridges research project and later played a key role in the Bats in American Bridges study that covered 25 states. The resulting publications are still having far-ranging impacts on bridge construction.
At a BCI workshop in Arizona, Bloschock devised a new approach to providing bat roosts in culverts, an innovation that earned him a prestigious U.S. Department of Transportation "Award 2000." BCI also honored Bloschock, now TxDOT's Supervising Bridge Design Engineer, with a 2001 Distinguished Service Award.
Even after 20 years as an Arkansas State Parks interpreter, Harry Harnish had never seen a bat up close until he was assigned to Devil's Den State Park in the mid-'80s. Rife with caves, the park was home to at least nine bat species, including the endangered Ozark big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii ingens). That stirred Harnish's curiosity, so he joined BCI and attended a Bat Conservation and Management Workshop. He hasn't slowed down since.
He has experimented successfully with bat houses at the park, and he gets very high marks for protecting the colony of Ozark big-eared bats. He's also in continual demand as an entertaining and informative speaker for schools and community groups, as well as for park visitors.
But what really turned Harnish into "the Batman of Northwest Arkansas" is the Bat-o-Rama. Devil's Den State Park near Fayetteville goes into overdrive one weekend every summer. Families come from around the region for a series of programs that covers everything from slide shows and bat facts to bat-house building and bat-viewing excursions.
Harnish's message reaches thousands of people of all ages each year, and his park's endangered bats are safer because of it. Harnish received BCI's 1999 Distinguished Service Award, as well as a Special Commendation from the Arkansas State Parks Director.
A wildlife biologist with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C., Fred Stabler found much of his early enthusiasm for bats at BCI workshops in Arizona and Pennsylvania, beginning in 1994. That enthusiasm was a key factor in the creation of two major bat-conservation efforts with BCI.
In 1994, Stabler played the lead role in establishing the BLM Bats and Mines partnership with BCI that has saved millions of bats across North America. The extraordinary success of this collaboration convinced Stabler of the need for a much broader collaboration, with shared planning and strategies, that would link federal, state, and local partners throughout the continent.
He proposed the North American Bat Conservation Partnership (NABCP), which was established under BCI coordination in 1998. The broad-based partnership includes biologists, conservation groups, government agencies, and corporations in Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. It works to identify mutual priorities, develop a continent-wide conservation strategy, and share funding and other resources. Its potential is immense.
Stabler, who serves on the NABCP Executive Committee, is always looking for still more ways to protect bats. He was honored with BCI's Distinguished Service Award for 2000.
Bats top the list of the world's least-studied mammals, and the forest-dwelling bats of the American Southwest were among the continent's least-understood species. Then Alice Chung-MacCoubrey went to work for the U.S. Forest Service in New Mexico.
As a wildlife biologist, she attended a BCI Bat Conservation and Management Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1996 to learn the secrets of mist-netting, handling, and identifying bats. She was soon hard at work on the first of a series of tree-roost studies in New Mexico. Designed to help the Forest Service improve its management of bat habitats in the Southwest, her research explored bats' roosting preferences in pi–on-juniper forests, ponderosa pine forests, woodlands along the Rio Grande, and in nearby desert environments.
At a 2000 BCI workshop in Arizona, she added bat detectors to her research repertoire and is now conducting long-term acoustic monitoring studies in the forests along the Rio Grande. This research examines how forest-management strategies for fire prevention affect bat activity.
Thanks to Chung-MacCoubrey's dedication and expertise, Southwestern bats are a lot less mysterious -- and much safer -- today.