Bat Conservation International's 2011-12 Annual Report is available as a free download at www.batcon.org/annualreport. Here's a sampling of what our programs accomplished in the past year.
NORTH AMERICAN CONSERVATION PROGRAMS
White-nose Syndrome Response
White-nose Syndrome spread into Alabama and Missouri this spring and is now killing hibernating bats of seven species in 19 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the death toll at 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats.
Katie Gillies, BCI's Imperiled Species Coordinator, directs our WNS response. Supported by state and federal grants and generous donations, BCI is able to provide prompt funding for cutting-edge WNS research. Those research awards totaled $85,594 this past year.
BCI increased its presence on Capitol Hill this year, as we helped organize a coalition of conservation groups to urge increased WNS-related funding. We also partnered with the Western Bat Working Group to analyze years of data that will help western states prepare for the likely arrival of WNS in the future. BCI also demonstrated that innovative acoustic-monitoring techniques can identify infected sites without entering hibernation caves or mines.
Bats and Wind Energy
BCI and its partners have demonstrated that bat fatalities at wind-energy facilities, estimated as high as hundreds of thousands per year in the United States, can be sharply reduced through "curtailment" – shutting down wind turbines on low-wind nights when bats are migrating. Now the Bats and Wind Energy Program is advising several wind-power companies on plans to use curtailment where endangered Indiana myotis are at risk.
Wind energy, meanwhile, is spreading rapidly around much of the world. BCI is working with partners to offer international workshops and other training opportunities to help agencies and conservationists deal with bats and wind-energy issues.
Subterranean Program Coordinator Jason Corbett spent much of the past year underground, surveying more than 600 caves and abandoned mines around the Western states for use by bats. More than a fourth of the old mines were protected, as a result.
But protecting subterranean bats often takes more than just physical stamina. Considerable patience is required for unraveling ownership and obtaining permits and funding. The Apache Chief Mine, home to Arizona's largest-known maternity colony of Townsend's big-eared bats, was protected in February 2012 with seven bat-friendly gates. Building the gates took BCI and its partners about two weeks. But more than two years of research and negotiations were required to begin construction.
Water for Wildlife
BCI's Water for Wildlife Program is working with federal, state, tribal, and private land managers to analyze bats' roosting and foraging patterns and identify the most critical water resources for each area's diverse wildlife. These, then, become priority sites for restoration and improvement. The program applied this landscape focus to Arizona's Sky Island and Mogollon Rim regions, two areas with exceptional bat diversity. More than three dozen springs, wetlands, stock ponds and other water resources were developed to benefit bats, endangered leopard frogs and native fish.
We are expanding our commitment to conservation on a global scale through partnerships that address bat-conservation needs within Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific.
Latin America & the Caribbean
BCI's collaborative role across Latin America grew dramatically during the past year. We now have 19 active or completed projects with varied partners around the region, with others about to launch. Our enhanced impact grows from the signing in March 2012 of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Latin American Bat Conservation Network, known as RELCOM (Red Latinoamericana para la Conservación de los Murciélagos). The agreement establishes a cooperative approach through which BCI, RELCOM and its members (17 nation-based conservation programs) are working together to identify and resolve key bat-conservation issues.
Dave Waldien, BCI's Vice President of Operations & International Programs (and now Interim Executive Director), was named to the steering committee of the Southeast Asian Bat Conservation and Research Unit (SEABCRU). The committee established a five-year plan that sets priorities for the organization's 11 member nations. Among many other actions, BCI helped write guidelines to minimize threats and disturbance from guano mining. We are also developing recommendations for "bat farming" in Cambodia, where farmers use unique bat houses to attract bats for pest control and guano, which is harvested for local use or sale as fertilizer.
Sub-Saharan Africa is a new frontier for BCI. Our most significant effort on this continent has been to establish a multinational steering committee charged with planning a conference of bat conservationists from throughout Africa. The gathering is to define and launch the first African bat-conservation network to jointly identify and address threats to Africa's bats. This unprecedented meeting is scheduled in Kenya during February 2013.
Global Grassroots Conservation Fund
Community involvement is a powerful force for bat conservation, and when neighbors are committed to protecting their bats, the impact is often long lasting. That is a primary goal of the Global Grassroots Conservation Fund. We award grants averaging just over $2,500 each that allow local volunteers to deal with local problems (outside the United States and Canada). Generous donors, coupled with BCI's growing commitment to international conservation, allowed us to provide 14 Global Grassroots grants for projects in 12 countries this past year. The 2012 conservation awards totaled a record $39,800.
Education and Outreach
Our education effort took a giant leap last year, as BCI joined one of the world's largest conservation organizations – the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The group's 200-plus member institutions attract 175 million visitors every year. Education Director James Eggers forged partnerships with many AZA institutions and spoke at the group's conferences. An AZA Year of the Bat Team became a powerful force in spreading our bat-conservation message during the United Nations' official celebration of bats. And AZA's worldwide bat-education efforts will continue well beyond the Year of the Bat.
BCI's field-training workshops provide unmatched hands-on experience in the latest research and conservation techniques, as well as classroom lectures by leading bat experts. Since 1991, some 1,800 people from 23 countries have participated in these sessions. Three workshops, including one focused on Advanced Capture Techniques, were held during May 2012 in Arizona, where 28 participants captured a total of 369 bats of 16 species. The echolocation calls of two other species were recorded by acoustic monitors. This year's summer schedule also included workshops in central Pennsylvania and California's Lava Beds National Monument.
Bracken Bat Cave
Watching millions of bats flying out of Bracken Bat Cave is an unforgettable experience that changes forever how people think about these flying mammals. To share that experience with a wider audience, BCI initiated a 2011 test of public tours in partnership with nearby Natural Bridge Caverns. The first year's positive results encouraged us to explore a full summer schedule of public tours this year. These public tours will allow BCI a chance to educate more people than ever about the benefits of bats, while also giving BCI members more opportunities to enjoy Bracken. All tours are led by a BCI staffer and begin with a presentation about the ecological and economic importance of bats. We are carefully monitoring this year's tours to ensure that they do not disturb the bats of Bracken Bat Cave.
Bat Conservation International awarded 24 Student Research Scholarships this year to support important bat research in 16 countries. The awards ranged from $2,500 to $5,000. Since 1990, we have awarded 334 scholarships to projects that improve bat conservation in 62 countries. Besides increasing our knowledge about bats and conservation, these scholarships are nurturing a new generation of young scientists, many of whom will lead bat conservation into the future.