Thanks to some inspired Oregon Zoo volunteers and Metro's site stewards, Pacific Northwest bats will have many new places to roost this summer, some of them in Metro natural areas.
The Oregon Zoo’s Environmental Conservation Outreach Team, approximately 20 zoo volunteers who work on conservation activities outside the zoo, used $500 of zoo funding to build 15 bat boxes. The project began in 2013 after volunteer Shankar Shivappa wanted to find a way to help Pacific Northwest bats.
"We have been to many places where there are bats and they host bat evenings. On one bat evening, we saw a lot of bats but we also learned about white nose syndrome and we asked ourselves what we could do to help," Shivappa said.
White nose syndrome is a fatal fungal disease contracted mostly by hibernating bats. It has not been detected in any Oregon bats, but has been moving west since its outbreak in New York state in 2006. Bat populations in Oregon are being closely watched for any signs of the disease.
Shivappa said the volunteers realized they could do two things for Oregon's bats: "Provide good habitats in our area so the numbers of bats increases and monitor the population to keep our finger on the pulse of the bat population and warn people if we see a decreased number of bats."
Bat boxes are hospitable environments for bats to roost, have babies and hibernate when natural habitat is non-existent or has been damaged. Once a bat box is installed, it could take years to be discovered by bats, or it could become inhabited right away.
Portland software developer Dave Miller designed a sophisticated bat house that caught the attention of zoo volunteers and he agreed to share his blueprints and expertise.
"The reason we're doing all this is that bats have pretty unique requirements for roosting spaces and there are not a lot of suitable environments around," Miller said. "I see bat houses in natural areas as supplemental or transitional housing until the area has large trees with exfoliating bark available, which can take 50 to 100 years."
Miller's bat boxes can house up to 400 little brown bats, the most common bat species in Oregon. They are coated with wax to make them water resistant and feature a heat-capturing piece of slate on the south-facing side. They have been described as "ultra-luxurious" by David Shepherdson, deputy conservation manager at the Oregon Zoo.
Shepherdson said the zoo's environmental conservation outreach volunteers are a passionate and active group and represent some of the zoo's larger conservation goals.
"This project is part of the zoo’s field conservation activities. There is a vital role the zoo can play in connecting our 1.6 million visitors with the wild," Shepherdson said.
Six of the bat boxes have already been placed and two of them are in Metro's River's Bend Natural Area thanks to volunteer Janet Davis and her husband Mark Rogers. Davis and Rogers, a retired pharmacist and retired nurse, are doing their best to fill their days with wilderness and wildlife. They are both ZooGuides and volunteer with the Environmental Conservation Outreach group and they are Metro Site Stewards for River's Bend, in Tualatin.
As site stewards, the couple visits River's Bend at least twice a month to make sure everything looks good and there are no unauthorized uses of the land.
"On one visit, right after we’d finished the bat boxes, we noticed there was this tree in the middle of the prairie," Davis said. "A big oak tree had split and it exposed this side of the tree facing mostly south, which is what you want, and I thought that would be a perfect place to put a bat box."
Davis got in touch with Bonnie Shoffner, Metro's restoration volunteer coordinator, to see if she could put the box on the tree.
"It's great when volunteers in the community get to the point where they are coming to us with ideas instead of us telling them what to do," Shoffner said. "I thought it was really cool, Janet called up and said, 'I helped build this bat house, lets put it up at the natural area where I volunteer.'"
There are now two bat houses at River's Bend and Davis and Gordon have committed to monitor them.
Four bat boxes have been installed in Washington, one at Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge, one at Pierce National Wildlife Refuge, and two bat boxes went up at Columbia Land Trust's Indian Jack Slough property.
One box will be installed soon at a demonstration apple orchard in Mollala.
Once construction at the zoo is completed, there are plans to install two bat boxes on zoo grounds and a third will be kept for display and educational purposes.
The zoo volunteers are seeking other Metro properties that are suitable for the remaining five bat boxes to be installed.