Bat survey conducted at 167th Airlift Wing
By Senior Master Sgt. Emily Beightol-Deyerle, 167AW/PA
/ Published August 07, 2016
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A pair of biologists visited the 167th Airlift Wing last month to determine whether or not a particular species of bat recently listed on the threatened species list was inhabiting the unit property.
Biologists Dustin Janeke and John Tipone set up equipment at several locations around the base in search of the northern long-eared bat whose population has been decimated by a deadly disease called white nose syndrome.
White nose syndrome is named for the white fungus that grows on the muzzles, ears and wings of affected hibernating bats. It is estimated that since the outbreak of WNS bat populations have declined by 80% according the U.S. Geological Survey website.
"People don't realize how beneficial bats are," Tipone said.
Bats eat large amounts of insects every night which provides an economic value to farmers and foresters estimated to be $3 billion annually.
The northern long-eared bat was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act last spring which prompted Melanie Frisch, the Natural Resources Program Manager lead for all ANG installations to contract with HDR, inc., to conduct bat assessments at bases located within the bats known habitat.
"You have to identify what you have inhabiting the installations and then develop plans to protect those resources," Frisch said. The natural resources programs aim to protect the environment while supporting the mission, she explained.
Last January the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a final rule to conserve the northern long-eared bat which allowed for some flexibility, tailoring protections for the bat while minimizing regulatory requirements for landowners.
Frisch said that if the bats are found to be inhabiting base property the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will be consulted to best determine how to protect the bats. She said it may be as simple as avoiding those areas.
Janeke and Tipone coordinated with the 167th Civil Engineering Squadron's environmental office to carry out their baseline survey and search for the bat. The team set up specialized microphones sensitive to ultrasonic ranges in four locations on the wing's property.
The data collected through the microphones were digitized, stored on compact flash cards and then organized into sonograms which can be analyzed to determine which bats are present based on the bat's echolocation mechanisms.
They also set up four specialized net systems in natural corridor areas which bats tend to use when they travel at night. Because bats are most active shortly after sun-down, the pair started checking the nets at dusk and continued their checks every 10 minutes until about 2:00 a.m.. The biologists did not see or catch bats in the nets during their baseline survey at the 167th but the microphones did pick up bat calls at all four locations, according to Janeke. Further analysis will be done to determine which bats were present.
Had they found bats in the nets they would have put them in a small paper bag to weigh and assess them prior to setting them free. When birds and insects occasionally get caught in the net they are untangled and released. The team is scheduled to return for a second assessment in late August when there may be an influx of migrating bats.