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Indiana Bat Conservation Plan Takes Off at Indianapolis Airport
by Lori Pruitt
Photo Credit: USFWS
Building successful partnerships requires hard work and can take decades. In the case of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Indianapolis International Airport, it has taken 20 years, but the effort is paying off for the endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis).
The Service first became involved with the airport over 20 years ago, when surveys revealed the presence of an Indiana bat maternity colony that would be affected by a planned airport expansion project. A Section 7 consultation under the Endangered Species Act was completed allowing for runway expansion to move forward but also provided for maintaining the maternity colony. Conservation measures included protecting habitat, planting vegetation for additional future habitat and establishing a monitoring program. Over the next eight years, the colony continued to live in the area and began to take advantage of the protected habitat.
Those years were not without challenges – there was constant pressure for development in and around the protected habitat. That pressure intensified in 1998 when the airport proposed a huge development project with a new terminal, a large private business park and the relocation of an interstate highway.
This time, the best approach was a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) with the Indianapolis Airport Authority. Developing the HCP would be a challenge, as both the expansion and the impacts to the bats were significant. Many partners participated in the negotiations. Fortunately, data from years of monitoring of the colony provided us with a wealth of information, and a plan was crafted.
Photo Credit: Ann Froschauer, USFWS
The goal of the HCP was to protect existing forested habitat along a well-used stream corridor and plant trees in open areas to increase connectivity. A strong public education and outreach component was also considered critical. In 2002, the HCP for the Six Points Road Interchange and Associated Development was approved. In addition to the IAA and the Service, other partners included the Federal Highway Administration, three units of state government, Hendricks County, and the Indianapolis Department of Public Works.
After 10 years of monitoring under the HCP, the colony is thriving, and even appears to be larger now than before the effort began. Understanding of the summer ecology of this species has been greatly enhanced, and information from this project has been used in conservation planning throughout the species’ range. With the advent of white-nose syndrome, a disease that has killed 5.5 million bats – including the Indiana bat – since it was discovered in 2006, this information has become even more valuable.
The public education and outreach component of the HCP has been a huge success. The latest achievement was the 2011 opening of Sodalis Nature Park (named after the Indiana bat, Myotis sodalis), which was established on over 200 acres (81 hectares) of land just west of Indianapolis to be permanently protected under the HCP. Much of the park programming provides visitors the opportunity to experience and participate in bat conservation. And there are a lot of visitors – nearly 51,000 in the first seven months, a wonderful example of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, which has the goal of reconnecting Americans, especially children, to the outdoors. The park was recently recognized by the Indiana Parks and Recreation Association as one of the state’s outstanding parks.
Over the past 20 years, those involved in this process have seen their efforts bear fruit. Seedlings are now young forests, hundreds of Indiana bat pups have been born and raised on HCP-protected lands, and critical information about this species has been collected. Partners have evolved from somewhat reluctant participants to major advocates for Indiana bat conservation. Pride in the resource and what we have done collectively to conserve it have been contagious--there is no question that one of the accomplishments of this project has been the recruitment of new bat enthusiasts.
Lori Pruitt, the Recovery Team Coordinator for the Indiana bat, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-334-4261, ext. 211.
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