Federally Endangered Bat Found in North Georgia: First Indiana Bat in Almost 50 Years
March 22, 2013
- Stacy Shelton, Public Affairs Specialist, firstname.lastname@example.org, 404-679-7290 (o), or 678-575-7796 (m)
A hibernating Indiana bat. Photo: Ann Froschauer, USFWS. Download.
In May of last year, a federally endangered Indiana bat woke from hibernation in her Tennessee cave and traveled to a north Georgia forest. This rite of spring may have gone unnoticed except for the fact that the tiny bat carried a transmitter the size of a toothpick.
The finding is significant for the conservation and recovery of this insect-eating dynamo. The bat had not been documented in Georgia since 1966 and is battling a deadly disease across its range that spans most of the Eastern half of the U.S. The finding in East Ellijay means the bat may be utilizing more of the southern end of its historical range than previously known, information which may one day help us achieve our goal of delisting the species.
Indiana bats, which weigh as much as three pennies and can fit into a human palm, are voracious eaters of flying insects. In flight along rivers, above lakes and in uplands, the Indiana bat may attempt to capture insects up to 17 times per minute. Nationwide, researchers publishing in the Science magazine in 2011 estimated all bat species provide at least $3 billion in pest control services to the agricultural industry.
While the bat’s discovery is exciting for biologists, it’s a mixed bag for road builders and others developing the north Georgia landscape. For the Georgia Department of Transportation, it means taking some extra precautions before building new roads or expanding existing ones in parts of north Georgia. Those may include timing tree-cutting to the fall and winter, when the bats are hibernating in Tennessee caves and elsewhere.
Here’s how the process works: The Federal Highway Administration generally provides 80 percent of the funds for GDOT roads, and oversees the projects. The Federal Highway Administration consults with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act and other federal environmental laws. Part of the intent of the Act is to allow economic development to move forward while balancing the needs of rare species such as Indiana bats. Often, the Service often works directly with GDOT to keep the process running smoothly. But the Service is an advisory agency only: Any decision to move ahead with a project, require bat surveys, and other authority rests with the Federal Highway Administration. Part of the intent of the Act is to allow economic development to move forward while balancing the needs of rare species such as Indiana bats.
To ease the burden on GDOT, this week the Federal Highway Administration, GDOT and the Service signed a Memorandum of Agreement to green-light a number of land purchases for high-priority road-building projects, even before bat surveys have been completed. These projects are ones that would be designed in the same manner, whether or not bats were present. The projects will undergo appropriate levels of environmental review before construction begins.
In addition, the Federal Highway Administration, with the Service’s concurrence, approved major transportation improvements last year including the widening of I-75 and I-575 in metro Atlanta with essentially no delays. On that project, researchers spent five nights surveying for bats in August 2012. In just three days, the Service recommended approval to the Federal Highway Administration for GDOT to move forward.
For more information on Indiana bats go to http://www.fws.gov/midwest/Endangered/mammals/inba/index.html.
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