Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 20, 2014

Bats to be taken under wing in Sleeping Bear tree plan

By MICHELLE MERLIN mmerlin@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The Indiana bat loves to roost in large trees rife with peeling bark and plenty of nooks and crannies.

Diseased and dying trees could easily fit the bill for the endangered species, but the bats’ favored habitat created a bit of a conflict for local national park officials.

Officials at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are reworking their hazard tree management plan to allow them to take down a growing number of diseased trees before they become dangerous to park visitors. But from March or April to October, they’ll have to be mindful of rousting the roosting, endangered bats.

“The bats might be using those trees during the summer time for maternity roosts or any other kind of roosting habitat,” said Vincent Cavalieri, a wildlife biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It’s just something for the park to make sure any tree removal will be accompanied by some sort of checking for bats during summer months when the bats will be using the trees.”

Both the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat, which is on a proposed list of endangered species, could be found in the lakeshore as the weather warms. Bats play a significant role in their local ecosystems as insect predators and pollinators.

Bats tend to hibernate through the winter in caves, but once temperatures rise they head out to forests to mate, roost and teach their new pups to fly.

Working around the bats will take some planning because they roost in the months that are best for tree-cutting, said Kevin Skerl, the Chief of Natural Resources at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

“If we want to cut trees during that period, we have to find ways to minimize and mitigate impacts to those species,” Skerl said.

Roosting bats could become disoriented or killed if their roosting trees are removed, Cavalieri said. Fish and Wildlife officials don’t want any bat-bearing trees to be removed.

“It likely would just displace them and they’d have to go searching for a different habitat,” Cavalieri said. “It could be especially stressful for pregnant bats or bats that recently gave birth.”

His agency reminded lakeshore officials to be aware of the bats in a comment on the proposed hazard tree management plan.

Park officials hope to more aggressively drop diseased trees before they become dangerous to park visitors. Experts predict the number of infected trees will increase over the next few years.

Ash, beech and oak trees are all at risk for deadly tree diseases. The emerald ash borer and beech bark disease exist in the park and reports have arisen of oak wilt nearby.