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Pennsylvania Landowners Helping Indiana Bat through 'Spooky' Declines

Posted by Molly Hippensteel, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pennsylvania in Conservation Forestry
Feb 21, 2017
NRCS Chief Jason Weller with Tom Belinda and Rob Clauto
NRCS Chief Jason Weller (left) visited with NRCS District Conservationist Rob Clauto (center) and Blair County landowner Tom Belinda (right) to see some of the practices at work on the land.

When most people think of bats, images of dark caves, vampires and Halloween come to mind. But actually, bats get a bad rap, and we often don’t know how important they are for controlling insects, pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and improving biodiversity.

Many of our nation’s bats are facing population declines to near-extinction levels, primarily because of disease and loss of habitat. One of those species is the Indiana bat, an endangered species that has experienced rapid declines since the 1960s.

The Indiana bat, which has mouse-like ears, is found over the eastern half of the country. Indiana bats are a very social species, and they cluster together during hibernation. The bat got its name because the first one to be discovered was in 1928 in a cave in southern Indiana. The Indiana bat feeds on insects, and it is great for controlling mosquitoes and other flying pests. In summer, female Indiana bats gather into maternity colonies and each mother bat births, nurses and rears one pup under the peeling bark of an older-growth or diseased tree. The species spends its winters hibernating in caves or sometimes abandoned mines.

Unfortunately, this species is facing a new foe. White-nose syndrome, a fungal infection, is taking a toll on the Indiana bat and other bat species across the country, but there is hope.

With the help of biologists, private landowners, USDA is working to reduce the spread of this disease, as well as promote protection of high-quality habitat. For example, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) assists Thomas and Wendy Belinda of Blair County, Pennsylvania, to improve the management of forests on their land.  The Belindas are working to ensure diverse, open forests for the bats’ survival, as the bats prefer roosting in the cavities of large trees or under loose tree bark in open forests where the sun’s penetrating rays provide warmth.

The Belindas are planning and implementing a variety of management practices to restore more than 800 acres of forestland through the Healthy Forest Reserve Program—one of the Farm Bill programs available to landowners to receive assistance for adopting conservation practices. Through this program, the Belindas enrolled their land into a permanent conservation easement and have made a number of improvements, including removing competing trees, retaining highly preferred roosting trees and controlling invasive species.

Located in a key area adjacent to state game lands and nearly connecting to a nearby state park, the Belindas’ easement is part of a corridor of permanently protected Indiana bat habitat totaling approximately 21,000 acres.  NRCS staff are also actively working with other nearby landowners, which will expand this corridor even more. These efforts provide better quality and more secure summer breeding habitat for Indiana bats with the hope that the species will once again thrive in this area.

Category/Topic: Conservation Forestry

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Lita Sollisch
Oct 26, 2016

Do bat houses really work?

Ben Weaver
Oct 27, 2016

@Lita Sollisch - if they are built properly and located in the right space, bat houses do provide safe shelter for bats. The more chambers a bat house has, the better habitat it will provide. And installing a bat house in the right location is just as important as building a good bat house. Our partner, Bat Conservation International, has free bat house plans and instructions for where to install a bat house. There are instructions on how to build single, triple, and four chamber bat houses on the website. All these designs are great resources.

James Rust
Nov 02, 2016

How great is the bat toll do to our putting windmills all over the country? Bats don't have to be hit by turbine blades. Pressure pulses caused by turbines cause bat's lungs to explode.

Laurie Dennis
Nov 06, 2016

We recently learned that bat houses cannot be placed in live trees. Dead trees, posts, end of houses or structures, but not live trees.

Ben Weaver
Nov 07, 2016

@Laurie Dennis - Good question, Laurie. Our bat experts tell us that while trees are not the ideal places to put a bat box, they are not necessarily off limits. Trees could house predators, such as hawks and owls so putting the box on a pole, a barn or other structure away from trees is generally the most frequent suggestion. Be sure the box is higher than 10 feet and gets sun most of the day. <a href="; rel="nofollow">Bat Conservation International</a> does not recommend putting boxes in trees. The link provides a lot of information about building and installing a bat house. <a href="; rel="nofollow">Habitat for Bats</a> says installing in trees is not good but gives a few places where it might be okay.