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Fort Knox develops artificial roosts for rare bats

Apr. 22, 2013 - 09:35AM   |  
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FORT KNOX, Ky. — Fort Knox has developed artificial habitats for the endangered Indiana bat and has posted the roosts on telephone poles at the Army post.

Fort Knox Environmental Management Division Wildlife Biologist Jimmy Watkins said the post put up 12 of the roosts in forested areas on the installation. Watkins told The News-Enterprise that officials have confirmed that two of the roosts have been used by Indiana bats.

Watkins said six new roosts were installed weeks ago in areas where the Indiana bat has not been documented but habitats are ripe for use. The concept is not unique, but Watkins said he does not know of another military installation using the conservation effort on this scale.

The project evolved from an effort in 2006 to place artificial bark on existing dead trees, which attracted the bats. Watkins said some of the trees where the bark was placed decayed and have fallen over.

The bats, which weigh only one quarter of an ounce with 9- to 11-inch wingspans, hibernate in caves or mines during the winter but roost, give birth and raise their offspring under tree bark on dead or dying trees during summer. The roosts are created using a telephone pole treated only at the bottom and dressed with artificial bark to replicate a tree.

The bat was placed on the endangered list in 1967 for several reasons, including commercialization and human disruption of caves and the indiscriminate use of pesticides. More recently, the bats have proven susceptible to white-nose syndrome, which infects the skin of the muzzle, ears and wings of hibernating bats.

Watkins said the syndrome appears to disrupt hibernating patterns of the bats and causes them to deplete their fat reserves, which can lead to dehydration or starvation.

White-nose syndrome, which has killed large populations of bats, has been confirmed at Fort Knox but has not caused any deaths there yet, he said.

“Not all bats die from it,” Watkins said.

Watkins said biologists have been mindful to place the artificial roosts in areas where they do not conflict with the training of soldiers.

The bat can be found in the eastern part of the country, and 400,000 or fewer are left. Hundreds have been found at Fort Knox, and its 1,450-acre Indiana bat management area houses the largest known maternity colony in the state and second-largest known colony of the species’ range, which produced more than 280 bats from one tree, Watkins said.

The post still is analyzing the effectiveness of the roosts, but Watkins said he hopes conservation efforts like these will one day remove the Indiana bat from the endangered list.

The Defense Department owns around 30 million acres, home to more than 400 endangered species it is working to conserve, he said.

“They try to be a good landowner,” Watkins said.

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