|An Indiana bat on tree. Photo by Adam Mann|
Megan Seymour, a wildlife biologist with our Columbus, Ohio, Ecological Services Field Office, tells us how the Air Force is helping the endangered Indiana bat.
Aircraft aren’t the only things flying around Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Indiana bats patrol the night skies, foraging for insects over the Mad River corridor. A maternity colony of Indiana bats was first documented at Wright-Patterson in 1993 and has been monitored regularly since then. For more than 20 years, these bats, which usually return to the area of their birth, have called the base their summer home. Prime habitat for the Indiana bat occurs only within about 700 acres of the Mad River’s forested riparian corridor, a small part of the base’s more than 8,000 acres, and concerns about habitat loss and degradation due to invasive species have arisen.
|BEFORE: The forest at Wright-Patterson with invasive honeysuckle in the understory. Photo by USFWS|
Bush honeysuckles were introduced in the United States in the late 1800s for use in shelterbelts, wildlife habitat and landscaping. Birds disperse the seeds widely, and the plants have become naturalized throughout Ohio and the eastern United States. Bush honeysuckles are aggressive invasives that leaf out earlier in the spring than most native plants and maintain green leaves into the fall after most plants are dormant, shading out native plants and creating a monoculture. They are recognized as one of Ohio’s top 10 invasive plants.
|An Indiana bat maternity roost tree near Wright-Patterson AFB. Photo by Melanie Cota/USFWS|
The Mad River riparian zone canopy supports a diversity of native trees including maple, oak, hickory, cottonwood, hackberry, cherry, walnut, sycamore and ash. But the understory is dominated by honeysuckle, sometimes as large as 8 inches in diameter and 15 feet tall!
Darryn Warner, the Natural Resources Program Manager at Wright-Patterson, noticed native tree saplings in the understory being out-competed by honeysuckle, and without management feared there would not be enough young trees to replace older trees as they die off. Thus, over time, Indiana bat habitat could become significantly degraded, or lost altogether. He decided that the Sike’s Act would be the mechanism to address the issue quickly.
The Sike’s Act requires all military installations to “provide for the conservation and rehabilitation of natural resources.” To do this, each installation must develop and regularly update an Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan (INRMP). In 2012, Warner updated the INRMP to include honeysuckle control within Indiana bat habitat along the Mad River corridor. This allowed Wright-Patterson to obtain funds in 2012 and 2013 and contract private companies to implement control activities. These companies cut and treated about 20 acres of bush honeysuckle per year.
In Fiscal Year 2013, we established a nationwide interagency agreement with the Air Force allowing the Air Force to fund our staff to implement actions identified in INRMPs. We received $60,000 in both fiscal years 2013 and 2014 to conduct invasive species control at Wright-Patterson, and an additional $10,000 per year to head-start forest regeneration in previously treated areas.
|AFTER: The forest with cleaned-out understory. Photo by USFWS|
Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, about 130 miles from Wright-Patterson in Indiana, had the staff, equipment and expertise to conduct the work. Biologist Brian Winters led a crew from Big Oaks, Muscatatuck and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuges staff for 10 days during 2014-2015. Using machinery, herbicides, Service know-how and plenty of elbow grease, our folks treated about 100 acres, more than double what the contractors were able to treat, at a similar cost.
We love to partner in projects that benefit endangered species and increase resilient landscapes; this project did just that by removing invasive honeysuckles and by planting native shellbark hickory trees, which are used by roosting bats as maternity colonies. Honeysuckle treatment is planned to continue over the next five years, including treatment of new areas and regrowth in areas that were treated previously.
So how is the Indiana bat faring at Wright-Patterson? Indiana bats continue to be captured there as recently as the last survey in 2012, and additional surveys are scheduled for 2017.
Indiana bats nationwide face the daunting threat of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that infects bats during hibernation and results in significant winter mortality. Ensuring that high-quality summer habitat persists within the home range of maternity colonies is a critical step in helping the bats that do survive white-nose syndrome recover and reproduce during the summer. Wright-Patterson is doing their part to ensure these small pilots have a safe landing spot this summer.