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September 14, 2012

News

Bats roosting on McCoy buildings not a health, safety concern

Story & photos by Rob Schuette, Public Affairs Staff

Bats roosting on the outside of buildings at Fort McCoy are not a health or safety concern to people, said Tim Wilder.

Wilder, the installation’s endangered species biologist, said the bats actually are performing very beneficial actions by eating large quantities of insects. This helps keep insect populations down in the cantonment area, as well as throughout the post. Mosquitoes, a staple of bats’ diets, for example, are known transmitters of such diseases as the West Nile virus and encephalitis.
PHOTO: A bat finds a temporary roosting place on the outside of a facility at Fort McCoy. Photo by Rob Schuette
A bat finds a temporary roosting place on the outside of a facility at Fort McCoy.

Bats have been seen on the outside of buildings, such as the Exchange and Commissary, that use lighting to illuminate their entrance signs and, subsequently, attract insects, Wilder said. The buildings also have rough concrete exteriors that heat up in the sunshine and can serve as daytime roosting areas.

“These bats on the outside of buildings haven’t been causing any problems except people don’t like to look at them,” Wilder said.

People don’t have to fear the bats or report bats that are observed on the outside of buildings to installation personnel. Lone bats or several bats do not pose a risk to humans, Wilder said. They are not aggressive mammals and are not known to attack people without provocation, such as when being handled or forcibly removed.

Physically removing these bats from the outside of buildings would only be a temporary solution. With the buildings designed as they are, it is virtually impossible to prevent the bats from using these areas as roost sites from time to time. The bats also do not appear to be making these areas a long-term roosting site. Generally they are observed one day and are gone the next day.

“The bats also are likely to move to different locations as the summer winds down and it becomes time for them to hibernate for the winter,” Wilder said.

PHOTO: Bat houses near Parade Field 1 provide living quarters for bats. Photo by Rob Schuette
Bat houses near Parade Field 1 provide living quarters for the mammals as well as keep them away from humans and conveniently located near food sources.

“Bats are nocturnal, which means they do most of their hunting for insects at night,” Wilder said. “They are more likely to be active for a few hours right after sunset and then again right before dawn. If you do not want to observe bats it would be best to avoid being outside at those times. The best advice is to leave the bats alone and they will likely leave you alone.”

Four of the bat species that are found at Fort McCoy are on the Wisconsin threatened species list so people are not allowed to do any harm to the species, he said.

In general, bats aren’t a problem unless there are a lot of them congregating together or they get inside buildings, Wilder said. In these cases, people can call the Directorate of Public Works HELP Line at 608-388-4357 and place a work order to have trained personnel assess the concerns and determine the proper course of action.

Fort McCoy is doing a number of things to help support bat populations and to minimize contact between bats and people, Wilder said. Bat houses have been erected at strategic locations near water or where there are large insect populations and away from human populations to help minimize potential contacts between bats and people, he said.

“Bats are very beneficial to keep down insect populations around ball fields or even to control insects from causing problems at your backyard barbecues,” he said. “Bats also are known to pollinate certain crops.”

“One study indicated the value of bats pollinating crops in the Wisconsin and supporting the agricultural business ranged from about $658 million to $1.5 billion a year,” Wilder said. Bats also can eat up to 1,000 insects an hour, which potentially can assist farmers in controlling insect damage to their crops and reduce the costs of using pesticides to control insect populations.

Unfortunately, bats are subject to diseases, such as the White-Nose Syndrome. Wilder said this disease was first reported in 2006 on the East Coast and has been moving westward. It has not been reported in Wisconsin yet, but has been reported in Iowa.

The disease affects six species of insect-eating bats and over the past three years has killed more than 1 million bats, approaching 100 percent decimation of some populations. The high mortality rate is a definite concern because bats produce only one offspring per year, which can make it very difficult to overcome sudden, catastrophic losses, Wilder said.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has implemented a survey program, in which Fort McCoy participates, designed to determine which species are present and to determine their relative distribution on the landscape. Wilder said this hopefully will help build a database to better help manage bats and maintain a desirable population.

For more information about bats in Wisconsin, go to the website http://dnr.wi.gov/ and type in the word bats.

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