Flathead Bat BioBlitz may help endangered bats
Bat biologists are converging in B.C.’s Flathead River Valley tomorrow (July 24). They hope to gain new information to advance bat conservation in B.C.’s southeast and to ultimately minimize the impacts of White Nose Syndrome, a mysterious disease that has killed millions of North American bats.
The four-day Bat BioBlitz, organized by conservation groups in B.C. and Alberta and led by Wildlife Conservation Society Canada’s bat biologist, Dr. Cori Lausen, will build on an initial inventory of Flathead bats that Lausen conducted last summer during a BioBlitz. That inventory detected two species of bats in the Flathead that are considered federally Endangered by the Committee on Endangered Wildlife in Canada: little brown myotis (pictured) and northern myotis.
“In the southeast corner of B.C., the Flathead may be the gateway for entry of White Nose Syndrome into B.C., and it is thus urgent to start monitoring bats in this area,” said Lausen. “Significant bat hibernation caves have never been found in B.C. and yet the Flathead is surrounded by karst and has the deepest cave in all of Canada.”
Scientists have known for a long time that B.C.’s Flathead River Valley – adjacent to Waterton Glacier International Peace Park – is a hotspot for plant and large mammal biodiversity. But very little was known about the bats, birds and smaller creatures that inhabit the valley until conservation groups and scientists, including from the Royal BC Museum, organized BioBlitzes in 2012 and 2013.
White Nose Syndrome, responsible for the deaths of more than seven million North American bats, is a poorly understood fungal disease that kills bats while they hibernate. The disease is moving from east to west and has reached the Great Plains but is not yet found in B.C.
“It’s very important that we understand what bat species are present in B.C. and where they hibernate before White Nose Syndrome arrives,” said Lausen. “Once we’ve established what bats are present in the Flathead, we will know what types of habitats need to be protected for bat populations to recover following White Nose die-back, and optimistically we may be able to help bats survive the disease.”
“We’re optimistic that the first extensive bat inventory in the Flathead will lead to a greater understanding of how to help these endangered bats survive,” said Wildsight Executive Director John Bergenske. “This work underscores the biological importance of the Flathead River Valley and the urgent need to protect it permanently.”
Wildsight, the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, Sierra Club BC and CPAWS BC are working to protect the Flathead permanently with a national park in the southeastern one-third and a Wildlife Management Area in the rest of the valley and adjoining habitat. Mining and energy development is prohibited in the Flathead but the globally-significant valley is now under threat from intensive logging, road-building and rock quarrying.