It has been nearly a year since Craighead Electric Cooperative, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas State University, and others teamed up on a conservation initiative to help an endangered native bat species in Arkansas and the biologists working on the project have some exciting news to share.
A lone tree snag in the Shirey Bay Rainey Brake Wildlife Management Area near Strawberry, Arkansas was identified as the only known roost of endangered Indiana Bats in Arkansas. Fearing the decaying tree would soon fall, biologists and rangers hatched a plan to replace it with artificial structures before the colony returned the following spring.
Needing heavy machinery in a hard-to-reach swamp, they recruited the help of Craighead Electric Cooperative who donated the power poles and manpower to erect the sturdy new “trees” topped with artificial bark called BrandenBark that would provide shelter for the tiny flying mammals for years to come. The operation was successful and three artificial roosts were placed but there was no way of knowing if the returning colony would find them, if they would stay, or if they would even come back at all.
Biology students from ASU returned to the WMA to study the new roosts. Grad student Heather Custer details the survey: “We collected guano from guano collectors we installed on the utility poles as a way to confirm which bat species were using the poles through guano genetic testing.” The results were promising. “We noticed large amounts of guano at BB1 (BrandenBark pole 1; the pole placed next to the dead tree Indiana bats were using the year before).” To confirm the findings, manual bat counts were performed. “We had conducted two emergence counts (two weeks apart) at BB1 where 31 bats exited the first time and 37 exited the second time.”
To see what other trees these bats were using in the area, a few of the Indiana Bats were carefully caught and tagged. Custer continues, “We mist netted BB1 and attached radio transmitters to a few adult female Indiana bats. Along with the adult female Indiana bats, we captured several juvenile Indiana bats in the net which were released upon capture.
This was a good sign that this maternity colony is healthy and successful, especially with the new installation of the utility poles and BrandenBark.”
The results bode well for the future of Indiana Bat conservation. “As far as future plans for this maternity colony at the WMA, we have confirmed that the Indiana bat colony will use the utility pole/BrandenBark combo in this area. So we have been throwing around the idea of installing additional poles if possible to create more summer habitat for this federally endangered species,” says Custer.
This project was unique opportunity for Craighead Electric to collaborate with conservationists in Arkansas and they have shown that they are more than willing to help. Learn more about wildlife conservation in Arkansas at agfc.com