Lesser long-nosed bats depend on the agave plant – and agaves depend on the bats. These endangered bats feed on the nectar inside agave flowers (and some cactus flowers), then pollinate the plants in return. Lesser long-nosed bats follow a nectar corridor of flowering agaves northward on their spring migration from Mexico into southern Arizona and New Mexico.
So when construction of the U.S. border wall along the U.S./Mexico boundary killed thousands of agave plants at the Coronado National Memorial in Arizona's southeast corner, park officials and volunteers feared for the lesser long-nosed bats, the Sierra Vista Herald reported. The humans hoped that replacing the lost agaves would resolve at least one problem for the migratory bats that forage on the 4,750-acre memorial. So they planted about 1,600 agaves last year.
But, wrote reporter Jacob Peterson, "Mother Nature had different plans, killing half of the 1,600 plants by freezing them in February. Not to be outdone by ice, flames killed half again as the Monument [forest] Fire tore through in June." Hope, however, springs eternal. Most of last year's volunteers returned this summer with reinforcements, the newspaper says. More than 120 people showed up to repair the damage of fire and ice.
The Agave Restoration Project at the memorial is planned as a five-year effort. Park rangers, biologists and other specialists led the team in planting nearly 1,100 agaves in this second year, the Herald said.
"I'm very pleased," Dean Schlicting, the National Park Service biologist who's leading the effort, told Petersen. He said the volunteers are working to save not just the bats, but also the ecosystem of the area. "They are a keystone species," he said. "They pollinate the crops. It is a very important piece of the system."
The volunteers arrived by 7:30 a.m., Petersen wrote, and after a briefing and safety lecture, they went to work, planting inch-tall plants in shallow holes and covering them with chicken wire to keep wandering wildlife away.
Among the workers were Bob Scott and his three grandchildren. The paper quoted Scott as saying the project offered him a "chance to get the kids off the computer and out of the house."
As hundreds of chicken-wire domes sprang up across the landscape, the biggest problem seemed to be getting water to the agaves as fast as they were being planted, Peterson wrote. "Water!" was the call of the day, he said, "as the sun got higher and volunteers, making quick work of the task at hand, needed but a final boost to get their plants ready to grow."
By 9:30 a.m., almost all 1,100 plants were in the ground, watered and ready to face the uncertainties of nature.