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The battle for bats

Marquette County Conservation District hosts annual meeting

MARQUETTE — The Marquette County Conservation District is all about conservation, and that includes the misunderstood bats.

Bill Scullon, a Norway-based Michigan Department of Natural Resources field operations manager, talked about a scourge that’s been affecting bats in a program titled “Bats in Upper Michigan, the Battle Against White-Nose Syndrome Continues” on Thursday at the district’s annual meeting at Barrel + Beam in Marquette Township.

WNS, he said, is responsible for the deaths of between a quarter million to half a million bats — that people know of — in Michigan. The state is in its sixth year of infection.

WNS also has affected bats in 33 states and seven Canadian provinces.

Scullon acknowledged not everybody is enamored of bats, which he noted have a low incidence of rabies in submitted samples.

“People are either mortified, scared or indifferent,” Scullon said.

Conservationists are trying to change that perception.

Available at the meeting were posters on “Michigan’s Brilliant Bats,” which along with photographs and information include these facts:

≤ Bats do not get into hair.

≤ Bats do not suck blood.

≤ Bats do not carry bedbugs.

≤ Bats are not blind.

≤ Bats eat only insects.

Scullon said bats save about $75 per farm acre and about half a billion dollars in expenses that otherwise would be spent on chemicals to destroy damaging pests.

What’s hurting the bat population is white-nose syndrome, named after a fungus that invades the skin tissue of hibernating bats.

Scullon said WNS is unique in that it affects only bats, not other wildlife species or people.

Is there a cure? Not yet.

“There is no silver bullet,” Scullon said.

However, efforts are being made to halt or curtail the spread of WNS.

These include statewide monitoring and conservation of critical bat hibernacula; outreach/education; a bat habitat conservation plan between Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota; and research.

Other possibilities Scullon mentioned included the use of chlorine dioxide and lowering the temperatures in hibernacula since it has been shown bat mortality rate is lower in colder habitats.

People who want to learn more about WNS can visit www.whitenosesyndrome.org/, which includes facts on the syndrome, lesson plans and information on how people can help.

“It’s important that we have the support of the public,” Scullon said.

Since it was the annual meeting, Thursday’s event also focused on the district’s conservation efforts.

Jaimi Cawley, MCCD manager, said the district relies on grants for its operations.

“I facilitate those grants,” Cawley said. “I help write for them and help manage them, while I also manage the staff — my great, great staff.”

In her financial report, Cawley said the district received over $235,000 in state grants and over $139,000 in federal grants.

This year, the district’s popular tree sale brought in $90,000. The deadline to order trees for the 2020 sale is March 29, with tree pick-up scheduled for early May.

The 2019 annual report detailed many of the district’s activities, including implementation of 62 forest management plans and 22 other forestry-related conservation practices through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

The district also was one of 20 districts across 14 states awarded funding in the Urban Agriculture Conservation Program, established by the National Association of Conservation Districts, to increase technical assistance capacity for such conservation programs. Based on new land-use ordinances in Marquette County and on feedback received from resource concern surveys, MCCD organized four urban agriculture workshops in the growing season.

Another event was the May 18 Whetstone Brook stream clean-up, which involved volunteers gathering over 1,000 pounds of trash later taken to Waste Management for proper disposal.

For more information, visit www.marquettecd.com or call 906-251-3072.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.

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