Just as New Jersey tea can be found outside New Jersey, the Indiana bat covers more territory than Indiana. Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) inhabit 27 states, ranging from the Northeast through the Middle West. Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri host the largest numbers. Ravenous insect eaters, Indiana bats are on the federally endangered list through loss of habitat. Since bats are tree dwellers, their condition has had considerable impact on transportation, construction and environmental projects nationally.
Indiana Bat Populations
Although the Ohio Department of Transportation is quick to discount absolute accuracy of figures, it reports the general agreement that Indiana bat populations declined by approximately 50 percent between 1965 and 2000. Its 2006 report, issued in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Highway Administration, lays considerable blame for the decline on practices leading to loss of habitat. White-nose syndrome, as yet unexplained, further decimates Indiana and other bat populations and contributes both to population decline and demands for further protection.
Reasons for Protection
Amid arguments on behalf of biodiversity, perhaps the simplest one for bats is that bats eat mosquitoes. Conserve Wildlife NJ states that a hungry bat can consume at least half its body weight in insects every night. Indiana bats eat exclusively terrestrial and aquatic flying insects, consuming large numbers of crop-damaging beetles and hoppers in addition to mosquitoes. A history and resurgence of mosquito-borne illnesses dangerous to humans provide additional reasons to preserve bats. Recent appearances of West Nile Virus in states outside of New York where it first appeared and dengue fever in Texas suggest that increased human mobility may carry the consequence of greater disease exposure.
U.S. Forest Service and Office of Surface Mining regulations take a multi-faceted approach to protecting bats. Both Private logging firms working on public land and mining operations on public, private or abandoned land are required to conduct bat surveys, both population and habitat, as part of applying for work permits. Applications must include plans for dealing with bat populations, known bat areas and habitat. Trees known or observed to function as maternity trees form the center of five-mile-radius circles within which timber or mining activity is severely restricted. Regulated activity includes tree cutting, land clearing for roads or work areas and operation of machinery or apparatus whose noise might disturb bats.
Protection in Practice
Rules govern numbers and density of trees harvested as green timber (dead trees are not cut during green timber harvest). The Forest Plan for Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky restricts tree removal between May 1 and August 15 within 2.5 miles radius of a maternity tree, although timbering may take place from April 1 through October 15.
Commercial contractors clearing land for reasons not related to timbering must still observe protection of dead trees and snags, riparian buffer regulations and prohibition against removing tree varieties known to be bat attractants, like shagbark hickory. Trees within five miles of bat caves may be cut only within restrictions. Further regulations govern related human activities such as operating machinery or trucks, building and other activities that may be regarded as disturbing bats. Commercial contractors planning to work in areas inhabited by endangered species need to factor all possible impacts of their activity into their business proposals.