Rare bats call Fort Bragg home
March 13, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Fort Bragg is home to all classes of wildlife, which includes numerous species of bats. The Fort Bragg Endangered Species Branch along with Copperhead Environmental Consulting has been able to identify 10 species of bats on Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall. Two of the identified species are considered rare and federal species of concern, the Rafinesque's big-eared and the Southeastern myotis. The Rafinesque's big-eared bat is also listed as state threatened and the Southeastern myotis is listed as a special concern species by the state.
Both species live in bottomland, hardwood habitats in large, older trees that are hollowed out inside. These types of trees are mostly found in wetland areas which are already protected and integrated into the range regulation and natural resource management plans, said Janice Patten, a biologist at Fort Bragg's Endangered Species Branch.
"Fort Bragg works to improve and maintain forested areas and take care of the wildlife living here," said Patten. "We are constantly striving to provide military training areas and a stable environment for a diversity of native wildlife. It's not always easy, but it can be done."
Because they primarily live in protected areas, the training and construction on Fort Bragg have little to no effect on their natural habitat. But, biologists here are carefully monitoring the two species to learn more about them and track population status, both important for conservation options.
The Endangered Species Branch has been inventorying the bats on Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall since 2003. They use three methods to survey the population: mist and hand netting, echolocation and building/bridge inspections.
Currently, mist net surveys are conducted once a year in May or June to find breeding bat species and nets a second time later in the year to find migratory bat species.
A total of 671 bats representing 10 species have been captured since netting began five years ago. Fifteen Rafinesque's big-eared bats and seven Southeastern myotis were captured during the survey period
Biologists began placing radio transmitters on some of the rare bats caught to learn more about their roosting preferences to better protect the species. Neither species roosts in large groups but roosting areas have been found in trees and buildings as a result of attaching transmitters and conducting building/bridge inspections.
Echolocation surveys are conducted monthly from March through October. On these surveys, sensitive listening devices are used to pick up and record bat echolocation calls which usually occur outside of the range of human hearing. These recordings have documented Southeastern myotis on Fort Bragg, while netting has only found the rare species on Camp Mackall.
Patten said that all three methods of surveying are necessary to give the best characterization of the bat population on Fort Bragg.
Since there are currently no specific recommendations for either of these species, biologists and researchers are working together to develop conservation and management guidelines for the Rafinesque's big-eared and Southeastern myotis. Bat Conservation International and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service have organized a team of experts to develop strategies to care for these species. Patten is one of the experts on the panel.
"Biologists and landowners, state, federal and private, have frequently expressed a desire for consolidated recommendations for these species," said Mylea Bayless from BCI. "The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has granted funds to cover the costs of developing a document for resource managers and biologists which will include updated distribution maps, a summary of existing knowledge, recommendations for future research, priorities for habitat conservation and guidelines for land managers."
Many people may have mixed feelings about bats, but when it comes to any of the species on Fort Bragg, there is little to fear. Patten said bats are quite beneficial. All of the bats in the area are insectivores, helping control the mosquitoes and other bugs, making life a little better for the Soldiers that are training and for the local communities.
"The best way to be safe is to never handle any wild animal, including bats," said Patten. "While the bats living in the area do not generally bite humans, they can bite as a defense mechanism. If you find a sick or injured bat, the best thing to do is call a wildlife professional.
"If you have a bat that gets in your house, don't panic. It's lost and confused and doesn't want to be there either," added Patten. "Put on some leather gloves and grab a shoe box. When the bat lands, put the shoe box on top of it and slide the lid underneath. Take the box outside and let the bat free. You will be supporting local wildlife and reducing annoying insects."