When an owner of conserved forestland recently conserved some neighboring land, we saw an opportunity to protect bat habitat in an old mine shaft located deep within his forest. The old mine is a prime hibernation area, or hibernaculum, for bats.
According to Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife, bats last hibernated here in 2010—just before White-Nose Syndrome began to decimate Vermont’s bat population. The three species recorded at that time are now all endangered at either the state or federal level: the northern long-eared bat, the little brown bat (pictured above), and the tri-colored bat.
Taking the long view, we worked with the landowner and Fish & Wildlife to design conservation restrictions that would best protect the bat habitat with the hope that bats will someday live in these woods again.
Above: The tri-colored bat is endangered in the state of Vermont.
Below: The northern long-eared bat is federally endangered. (Photos courtesy of Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife)
“It was important that the conservation restrictions for this bat habitat be based on the best science available to us,” said Allaire Diamond, VLT ecologist. “We consulted with Vermont Fish & Wildlife bat biologists and read federal guidelines about best practices for northern long-eared bat conservation.”
The conservation easement creates a ‘no touch zone’ that prevents all forestry activities within 100 feet of the mine shaft. This will keep the environmental conditions around the hibernaculum, such as air flow, temperature, and light, optimal for bats. Bats need winter temperatures to stay between 32-48˚F in the cave so that they neither freeze nor use up their fat reserves too quickly.
In the next several hundred feet beyond the ‘no-touch zone’, forest management is allowed, but activities must be informed by the best available ecological science about bat habitat. This is an area where bats might roost and breed in the summertime. With this in mind, forestry practices must maintain the overhead canopy coverage, and be conducted between November and mid-April, when bats hibernate. Foresters will also leave trees that are desirable for bats: those with loose, shaggy bark or lots of crags and fissures, perfectly sized for a sleepy or nursing bat.
You can help bats by staying away from their hibernacula during the winter and spring, and by reporting unusual bat behavior or dead bats to the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife. Learn more at whitenosesyndrome.org.