Do you remember those signs? In the decade or two after the first Earth Day in 1970, it was common to see “Kiss Mother Nature Goodbye” scrawled on large, rural land-for-sale signs and on billboards promising that a new housing development or shopping mall was coming soon.
I don’t see that kind of graffiti much anymore, but I’m reminded of it every time some favorite piece of woods or pasture is rezoned and put up for sale. Humanity’s explosion across the landscape in the past six decades and the resultant loss of thousands of plant and animal species, even entire ecosystems, is the great environmental tragedy of our time. Even climate change is theoretically reversible. But as the other old saying goes: “Extinction is forever.”
Most of you know by now that Bracken Cave in the Texas Hill Country is under threat. Ten to 15 million female Mexican free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) migrate from Mexico and points south every spring to give birth in Bracken, making it the largest gathering of mammals in the world. For perhaps as long as 10,000 years, female freetails and their pups have been streaming out of the cave each night during the spring, summer and early fall, taking three to four hours to leave the cave, then returning each morning. It’s a ritual that predates the invention of agriculture, cities and civilization.
Now the lights of San Antonio and the Interstate 35 corridor to Austin are not far off. The sky over Bracken is still pretty dark, the surrounding lands are open and natural – but not for much longer. We’re in a race to protect as much land as possible around Bracken Cave and other bat maternity caves in the Hill Country while there’s still a little time.
Our website has all you need to know about the current threat to Bracken (see page 15 in this issue of BATS) and the many reasons why a proposed development directly under the nightly flight path of 10 to 15 million bats is a bad idea. But this is just the first of many challenges coming at Bracken, and just one example of the pressures bats face in every country of the world. “We can’t ignore Mother Nature. It always has consequences when we do,” Texas State Representative Lyle Larson said after introducing a bill to promote an ecological study of the Bracken Cave area before approving further developments.
Joni Mitchell warned us in song that we don’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone. But with your help and that of your family and friends and of many local citizens and concerned public officials, we just might find out in time – this time.
For more information on Bracken Cave and what you can do to help preserve it for future generations of bats and people, please visit
Andrew B. Walker