The Last Chance Mine held a treasure trove of copper when it opened about 1890. But the cost of hauling ore out of the Grand Canyon was high, and the mine shut down in 1907. Biologists discovered a maternity colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats inside the mine in 1988, long after the canyon had become a national park, and managers recommended closing the mine’s three openings with bat-friendly gates to protect both people and bats. That is where things sat for two decades – until Bat Conservation International and Grand Canyon National Park joined forces.
The change began when Jason Corbett, Coordinator of BCI’s Southwest Subterranean Program, and Hattie Oswald of the National Park were working two years ago on a bat survey of Grand Canyon caves and mines. They confirmed the importance of the Last Chance Mine and the need for gates, just as previous biologists had. This time, though, Corbett took the idea to a valued BCI partner, Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, Inc. The company agreed to fund the project. With money in hand, things moved quickly.
But nothing is ever easy in the Grand Canyon. Two of the mine entrances emerge along the side of a 300-foot (90-meter) cliff. The gating contractor, MineGates Inc., assembled an experienced team and the Park Service provided a manager and other staff, as well as aviators and a helicopter.
In September 2009, three crews went to work on three gates. The pilots proved remarkably adept at placing tons of materials and gear exactly where they needed to be, and the crews required just a day and a half to get the prefabricated gates in place. After months of planning and decades of waiting, the Last Chance Mine was gated and its bats are protected – thanks to the partnership of BCI and the National Parks.
Hattie Oswald notes that Corbett arranged donor funding not only for the gates, but also for the continuing Comparative Cave and Mine Use Bat Study. “Neither project would have been possible without BCI’s support and assistance,” she said. “Jason assisted with collecting the data and providing the motivation to actually get the gating project going. I can’t emphasize enough how important BCI has been for these two projects.”
The feeling is mutual – as it has been for decades. “Working with the Park Service is a real pleasure,” Corbett said. “I’ve worked with a number of Park Service people and they are extremely committed to wildlife and conservation. Together, we have accomplished great things for bat conservation and I’m sure we’ll continue to do so for years to come.”
BCI’s links to the National Park Service, in fact, reach back to the early 1980s and a long effort to create a new national park in the U.S. territory of American Samoa.
Alerted to an alarming decline of Samoan flying foxes, BCI Founder Merlin Tuttle, Board Chairman Verne Read and a few others visited visited the South Pacific islands in 1985. They discussed with local officials the possibility of establishing a national park to protect the bats.
In the next few years, Tuttle and Read testified before several congressional subcommittees as BCI members began a letter-writing campaign. President Ronald Reagan signed the bill establishing the National Park of American Samoa in 1988. The park was officially established in 1993. “If not for BCI’s efforts, this unique tropical-island park might still be on the drawing board,” park Superintendent Chris Stein wrote in 1997.
The partnership that began 25 years ago is still thriving and still productive. BCI has collaborated with the parks on many projects, including bat and mine surveys, education programs and the installation of bat-friendly gates on caves and mines in Arizona, California, Kentucky, North Carolina, Texas and elsewhere. And the work goes on.
BCI Members can read the whole story of the long partnership between BCI and the Park Service in the Fall 2010 issue of BATS magazine.