Ten species of bats find homes on the 160,700 acres of the U.S. Army’s Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Two of them – Rafinesque’s big-eared bats and southeastern myotis – are considered rare, with populations that are believed to declining. The Fayetteville Observer says the post has been working since 2003 to monitor and protect those species.
“It’s general stewardship,” Fort Bragg Wildlife Biologist Janice Patten told the newspaper. “It’s also a requirement for federal properties to inventory and monitor rare species. As … habitat has been lost, military bases have become wildlife refuges by default. The soldiers need large tracts of forested areas where they can train.”
The Observer reports that “‘Conservation groups have been paying a lot of attention to the “Rafs” and southeastern myotis,’ said Piper Roby, a biologist and environmental consultant who is studying them for Fort Bragg. ‘If we can get enough information on them and learn what they need and learn how to preserve them, their numbers will go up, and they won’t have to go on the endangered species list,’ she said. ‘Bragg is helping us do that.’”
Patten notes that Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Southeastern Bat Diversity Network are jointly developing a conservation and management plan for the two species. “Their reason for wanting to do this is they want to get all the stakeholders involved now,” and that includes military bases, state forests and national forests, she told reporter Henry Cuningham.
The Observer notes that scientists’ descriptions of the bats often make them “sound a little like some of the special-operations soldiers who train on post. Bats are quiet and secretive. They operate at night in small groups out of discreet locations and are just as happy if nobody knows they are there.”
Researchers have to search out the bats. They look in buildings and under bridges, capture them in mist nets and use bat detectors to monitor and identify their echolocation calls (which are beyond the reach of human hearing). The newspaper says biologists have been doing an “echolocation survey” – going out at night with listening devices to record the calls of bats that avoid the mist nets.
“If we could actually hear bats at night, we’d probably have a horrible time sleeping,” Patten told the Observer. “They are calling almost constantly while they are flying so they can find their way around. Their echolocation is similar to our sight.”
The newspaper said researchers have identified a colony of 50 to 100 Rafinesque’s big-eared bats.
Besides monitoring the bats, Cuningham writes, Fort Bragg engineers are doing their best to anticipate the bats’ needs. “We are building new bridges, and we are putting in places on our bridges for the bats to roost,” said Rob Harris, chief of the engineering division of Fort Bragg’s Directorate of Public Works. “It doesn’t cost any more money, but if we just change our construction techniques a little bit, it makes nooks and crannies for the bats to roost.”