The Townsend’s big-eared bat, one of the most imperiled bats in the Pacific Northwest, uses the abandoned Pitney Butte Mine in eastern Washington as a vital nursery roost – and perhaps as a hibernation site, as well. But the mine is located on public land near a popular recreation area that gets a million visitors a year. The Bureau of Land Management, to protect human visitors, had marked the mine for permanent closure, possibly by bulldozing the entrances.
Then Bat Conservation International and its members came through. Now, thanks to a grant from BCI’s North American Bat Conservation Fund, bat-friendly gates keep humans out, while the bats can come and go at will.
Pitney Butte Mine produced silver, zinc, lead, gold and copper from 1950 through 1956. Since it’s abandonment, the mine has provided roosting habitat for five species of bats, including Townsend’s big-eared bat. Fewer than 1,000 of these bats are known in Washington, and the species is considered at risk throughout the region. In Washington, nursery colonies of Townsend’s big-eared bats are rare and only three hibernation sites have been identified.
Bureau of Land Management biologists had confirmed that pregnant and nursing females, as well as juveniles, were using the Pitney Butte Mine, documenting its significance as a roost where mothers give birth and raise their pups. This clearly is an important site for Townsend’s big-eared bats.
BLM wildlife biologists Joyce Whitney and Theresa Mathis asked BCI for funding to protect this critical habitat. Alerted through “The Wish List” in BATS magazine, Members Robin Boyer, Betty Presnail, Bonnie Douglas, Anna Bruce, Nancy Leeper, Mark Sutherland, Anne Mack and Marie Farr responded with donations to support the project.
With funds in hand, the BLM’s Spokane District Office contracted with Abandoned Mine Closures to install a chain-link fence around one entrance and bat-friendly, angle-iron gates on the other two, which the bats use. Last summer, BLM biologists surveyed the mine to ensure it remained accessible to bats. They confirmed that Townsend’s big-eared bats were still using the site as a maternity roost, as were long-eared myotis. California myotis and western small-footed myotis also were roosting in the cave.
As an additional return on BCI’s support, the BLM reports that the successful Pitney Butte project “provided the impetus to protect an additional 10 mines in eastern Washington, six of which provide roosting sites for Townsend’s big-eared bats.”
BCI’s North American Bat Conservation Fund provides grants to support crucial conservation-related projects and research throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. You can help. Please contact the BCI Department of Development at firstname.lastname@example.org.