Fort Campbell has partnered with Austin Peay State University in an Intergovernmental Support Agreement to help track and survey endangered bat species and populations on the installation to further ensure their protection.
The recently signed IGSA agreement is valid for three years. During this time, teams of environmental science and biology scholars and experts will survey the forests, wetlands and other undeveloped forest area on Fort Campbell to locate bats, specifically the Northern Long-Eared Bat.
“We’re able to cut down 30% of government costs while still meeting regulatory compliance with the Endangered Species Act,” said Gene Zirkle, wildlife biologist, Directorate of Public Works, Environmental Division. “It allows students studying this same field to learn on the job and gain skills that will make them very marketable when they graduate from the university.”
Zirkle and his team began the search for Northern Long-Eared Bat, a species currently threatened to become an endangered species primarily because of White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease that is deadly to bats. The disease has put the Northern Long-Eared Bat at risk as well as other bats species.
“This IGSA is focuses on three species, the main one is the Northern Long-Eared Bat,” Zirkle said. “The other two have been petitioned for federal protection as well, they are the Tri Colored Bat and Little Brown Bat. These bats will all need to be protected due to White Nose Syndrome.”
The Northern Long-Eared Bat is listed under section four of the endangered species act, Zirkle said. As a federal agency, he and his team must meet regulatory compliance that includes tracking and identifying roosts for the bats if they are present and then establishing a conservation plan for the bat.
Catherine Haase, assistant professor, Department of Biology, APSU, is leading field work with a team of APSU first-year graduate students – Sarah Krueger, Trevor Walker and Sarah Zirkle.
“Bats are just as economically important as they are important to our environment,” Haase said. “Bats can save up to $52 billion in the agricultural community because they are a natural pest control. Being as this is an agricultural area, for us to go out and look at where these bats are and what areas need to be protected for conversation purposes, it helps the local community and agricultural industry.”
Except for roads, cleared areas and structures associated with training and support in the rear training areas, 86% of the installation consists of natural habitat including forests, grasslands, fields leased for agriculture, streams, lakes, and wetlands. The APSU team is working across the installation to identify if and where the three bat species are present.
“Every week, the students are netting,” Haase said. “They go out to different sites across the installation and track and catch what bat species are there. They identify, weigh them, measure body metrics and create a survey of what is available. They also put out acoustic sensors which essentially record the calls of the bats through echolocation to also help identify what species they are based on our software. We also have a few other projects under this umbrella, which help identify the species and which fit into their master’s theses.”
The objective for APSU is to document distribution of bat species, identify forage and swarming sites, document summer roost sites, and document summer roost habitat within the approximately 64,000-acres of training lands on Fort Campbell.
“We would like to provide a report in terms of what we’ve found, what species are out there across the base and track the specific locations they are inhabiting,” Haase said. “It also helps identify what natural features are important for the preservation of these species, if it’s a stream or specific tree they need.”
Haase and the graduate student team also enjoy the close proximity of Fort Campbell to their field center at APSU, as well as the opportunity to work together with experts like Zirkle, who also appreciates the opportunity to work with young biologists.
“We can get something tangible we need while also assisting the next generation of biologists,” Zirkle said. “My two end goals for this IGSA is for Fort Campbell to meet regulatory compliance under the Endangered Species Act at minimal cost to the installation, and the second goal is to train the next wave of biologists who may take over for me or other biologists when we retire from the field.”