• Survey: Bat population still declining
    STAFF REPORTS | March 31,2013
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    Vermont Fish & Wildlife Photo by Tom Rogers

    Fish & Wildlife Department biologist Scott Darling surveys a big brown bat at a mine in eastern Vermont.
    Surveys performed this winter by researchers at the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department indicate that populations of several species of bats in Vermont continue to shrink due to the devastating effects of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease affecting cave-hibernating bats.

    Fish & Wildlife scientists Scott Darling, Joel Flewelling, and Alyssa Bennett spearheaded a statewide survey of Vermont’s cave-hibernating bat species to continue monitoring the disease since it first hit the state. They have witnessed the effects of the disease, which was first detected in eastern New York in 2006 and was confirmed to have infected Vermont’s bats by 2008. The disease has since spread as far away as Missouri and Nova Scotia in Canada.

    “We’ve recorded declines as high as 90 percent during our cave surveys, so we feared a continuation of that drastic rate of decline this winter,” said Darling. “While the rate that we’re losing bats each year appears to have slowed a bit, bat numbers were still considerably lower than in previous surveys. Some species, such as northern long-eared bats, are hardly appearing at all in these caves.”

    Bats generate an estimated $3.7 billion a year in benefits to North American agriculture through insect pest control and crop pollination, according to the journal Science. In Vermont, they eat insects that damage crops, torment livestock, or are forest pests. “These unique mammals are the principle predator of flying insects in New England,” said Darling.

    The freefall of bat populations due to white-nose syndrome is something that should be on everyone’s radar right now,” said Darling. “We’re observing the most precipitous decline of a group of species in recorded history and it’s happening right here in our region. Several species have virtually disappeared in less than a decade and we are getting increasing skeptical that these bats will ever return.”

    Vermont is home to nine bat species; six species spend winters hibernating in caves and three migrate south. While the species of bats that migrate may be threatened by increased ridgeline wind development, population data on this suite of species is very difficult to obtain. Among Vermont’s cave bats, the little brown bat and northern long-eared bat are state endangered species, small-footed bats are state threatened, and Indiana bats are state and federally endangered species.

    According to Darling, there are three avenues to prevent these species from becoming completely extirpated in Vermont. The first, and best option, would be for researchers to find a treatment or a cure for white-nose syndrome and a feasible means of applying it in the wild.

    Alternatively, these bats may continue to decline until the few that remain happen to be naturally resistant to the disease. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department is participating in a regional study to investigate this possibility. Alyssa Bennett, wildlife technician, cites two adult female little brown bats that the team recaptured six years after they were initially captured and banded by researchers, despite the fact that most other bats in their maternity colony had fallen victim to white-nose syndrome in that time. “While these individual bats may be genetically resistant to white-nose syndrome, they may have also survived due to luck or resilience, or by escaping exposure somehow,” said Bennett.

    The third option, whhich Darling refers to as the “Noah’s Ark strategy,” involves holding the bats in captivity during the short time period when they are most vulnerable to white-nose syndrome. The department is working with other agencies to determine the feasibility of such a practice.

    “The struggle to save Vermont’s bats continues to be a race against time,” said Darling. “If we’re not successful with these efforts, it’s unclear what we’ll turn to next.”

    Vermonters can help bat researchers in their effort to save bats by donating to the nongame wildlife fund on line 29 of their tax return or by going to www.vtfishandwildlife.com.

    More information about the bat research efforts of Scott Darling and his team is available from this short news clip from CBS news: http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4920589n

    Deer harvest

    up by 13 percent

    The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department’s report on the 2012 deer hunting seasons is available on the department’s website (www.vtfishandwildlife.com). The report is produced each year after information is received from more than 120 agents statewide and all the data are reviewed for accuracy and trends.

    Hunters harvested a total of 13,757 deer in 2012, up more than 13 percent from the year before. The department estimated there would be an increase in number of deer in 2012 due to a mild winter and a reduction in the number of muzzleloader season antlerless deer permits issued in 2011. In response, the number of antlerless permits was increased by 30 percent in 2012.

    “The increase in antlerless permits provided hunters with the opportunity to harvest antlerless deer while still allowing for the slow increase of deer numbers in many regions of the state,” said deer biologist Adam Murkowski.

    Forty-five percent of the deer were taken during the rifle season, 24 percent in archery season, 18 percent during muzzleloader season, and 13 percent in youth season.

    Conservation camp

    registration online

    The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department started taking applications for its Green Mountain Conservation Camp program online for the first time this year, and with the number of applications that are coming in, it looks like the change is successful. On March 27, the department had reserved 569 out of 988 openings for student campers.

    “We began taking online applications to help people apply on their own and to improve efficiencies in the office,” said Fish & Wildlife Education Coordinator Alison Thomas. “As with any new digitized program, there were a few glitches, but we fixed them quickly, and people are successfully applying at a good rate.”

    The one-week camp program for 12 to 14-year-olds is held at two locations: Lake Bomoseen in Castleton and Buck Lake in Woodbury. Campers participate in hands-on learning experiences about fish and wildlife conservation, ecology, forestry, orienteering, safe firearm and archery techniques, swimming, canoeing, fishing and more in an attractive outdoor setting. Natural resource professionals come to the camp during the week to share information on their programs and take campers out for field activities.

    Conservation camps open June 16 and continue until Aug. 16. Tuition is $250 for the week, including food, lodging and equipment. Check the Fish & Wildlife website (www.vtfishandwildlife.com) for information as well as scholarship availability for those with financial need. Information about the program is under “Education and Training” on the left side of the home page, and here is a link to the online registration page: https://anrnode.anr.state.vt.us/GMCC/ApplyCamp1.aspx

    A printable application also is available.

    For more information about Green Mountain Conservation Camps contact: fwgmcc@state.vt.us or call 802-241-3768.

    Vermont’s conservation camp program is unique because it is sponsored and directed by Fish & Wildlife Department professionals: the same people who manage Vermont’s fish and wildlife resources. Working biologists, foresters, game wardens, and conservation educators teach young people about Vermont’s forests, wetlands and wildlife. The program’s greatest strength is connecting young people to the outdoors. The camp program is sponsored in part through a grant from the Wildlife & Sport Fish Restoration Program.
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