Habitat restoration work focuses on water resources in the southwestern U.S.


By Kristen Pope

A bat swooped down to the small pool, flying low to slurp up a little bit of water before ascending and vanishing back into the night sky. In the southwestern U.S., water represents a critical but often isolated resource for bats and other wildlife. The Restoration Team at Bat Conservation International (BCI) is working to restore and enhance both natural and human-made pooled water resources in these areas and other western landscapes. 

Nathan Breece works to restore a spring. Photo by Dan Taylor.

Because bats drink while in flight, they must have pooled or slow-moving water to get a drink,” says BCI Restoration Team Lead Ethan Sandoval. “Their ability to use these pooled water resources is determined by each species’ flight maneuverability, as well as the size and length of a pool and the flyway surrounding it. A stretch of riparian habitat with long, reliable pools is where you see the most bat activity.”

Sandoval and his team are currently working on projects to restore water sources and riparian habitat for bats and other wildlife in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah. The team partners with state and federal agencies, other non-profits, private landowners, and local communities. They seek to target resources close to known bat roosts, using years of roost survey data assembled by BCI’s Subterranean Team in collaboration with abandoned mine and cave managers. 

Photo by Ethan Sandoval

Natural surface water sources, such as springs, are high priority sites for restoration projects. Protective measures such as fencing with steel pipe or wire are used to keep cattle, feral horses, and burros away, as well as to limit damage caused by off-road vehicles. These sorts of disturbances can cause problems like soil compaction, erosion, water quality issues, and reduced native vegetation. Other tasks performed at these sites include construction of hand-built rock erosion control structures, invasive plant removal, and increasing the amount of pooled water. (Water is provided outside of the fenced sensitive areas so that all animals can access water).

These same practices can be implemented at human-made water collection sites like the numerous cattle troughs and stock ponds scattered across the west. Designed to collect runoff, many of these stock ponds have been damaged and no longer hold water. The team works to enhance the sites by excavating and recompacting the clay soil in the bottom of the ponds.These projects help provide water resources for bats in a warming world. Due to their unique physiology, bats in arid western forests and rangelands have a high demand for water, and the majority need to drink nightly,” Sandoval says. Each restored spring or trough represents a critical resource and climate refugia beneficial to bat populations in the future.