The Battle to Save our Bats

Bats are a fascinating component of many New York State Parks across the state. Although we can rarely get a good look at them, often only as fast-moving silhouettes at dusk, they form a critical component of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, acting as pollinators, seed dispersers and as predators regulating insect populations. A single little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) can eat up to 600 mosquitoes in one hour.

But our bats are in grave danger. In February 2006, a new contagion was identified in New York, and has since spread to 23 U.S. states and 5 Canadian provinces. This fungal infection which grows on the noses of bats is called White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) and it has killed millions of bats and is one of the most pressing ecological issues of our time.

What we have learned so far about the white-nose fungus is distressingly limited. It appears that bat-to-bat transmission is the primary means of infection, particularly in bat species that form large hibernacula, roosts where hundreds of bats hibernate through the winter together. Although we still don’t understand how WNS kills bats, it is clear that the infection somehow interrupts normal hibernation behavior. Infected bats wake up far too early from their winter sleep, depleting their fat reserves and consequently starving or freezing to death in the cold.

The species which have been most affected by this affliction are the big brown bat, little brown bat and the tri-colored bat, but other New York bat species including the hoary bat, the eastern red bat and the small-footed bat are also threatened. However, even the hardest-hit species have survived in small groups, compounding the importance of protecting bat habitats.

To learn more about White Nose Syndrome and the U.S. bat situation, we recommend the following video:

Battle for Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome

This video was produced for the USDA Forest Service by Ravenswood Media. It shows how government and private agencies have come together to search for solutions to help our bat populations overcome WNS. The public can also play a role in the future of bats by providing habitat and surveying their populations. Bats are a critical component in a healthy forest ecosystem, plus they provide significant agricultural pest control and pollination. Their survival is essential for a sustainable natural environment.

For more information

Bat Conservation International’s White Nose Syndrome Factsheet

University of California Museum of Paleontology factsheet, Chiroptera: Life History and Ecology.

The featured photo is Myotis sodalis, the Indiana Bat. Photo by Alan Hicks, DEC. Post by Paris Harper.

NYS Parks Wins Great Lakes Grant

GLRI

On February 25th, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the winners of 11 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grants totaling more than $5 million for projects to combat invasive species in the Great Lakes basin.

The GLRI is a task force of 11 federal agencies targeting pollution, habitat restoration, invasive species, and establishing partnerships between agencies. Since 2010, the EPA has awarded more than 70 projects totaling over $40 million to combat terrestrial and aquatic invasives and to prevent the introduction of new invasive species.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is honored to receive a $410,000 grant to establish a new boat stewardship and invasive species prevention program which will also create 17 new jobs while educating tens of thousands of boaters.

The boat steward program will be an education based initiative to prevent the spread of aquatic invasives in the Great Lakes watershed. Over the 18 month grant period, NYS Parks will send boat stewards to 15 previously unmonitored boat launches and marinas along the Lake Erie shoreline, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. The boat stewards will perform boat inspections while educating the public on the impacts of aquatic invasives and the methods for their management and control. Stewards will also participate in team projects as a CORPS to implement rapid response measures to reduce already established populations of aquatic invasives.

At NYS Parks, we have the unique opportunity to manage and protect a large geographic area of the Great Lakes watershed and fill in the gaps not currently covered by other states or groups. This project will complement and support boat stewardship programs already established in New York State, including Paul Smith’s College, the Finger Lakes Institute, and New York Sea Grant. By building upon these successful programs, we will be spreading a standardized message all across the state that patrons should “Clean, Drain, Dry” their boats.

Check out the other award winners at the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

For more information on boating, visit the NYS Parks Marine Services site.

Clark Reservation State Park Bioblitz

1 Park

70 professional scientific volunteers

365 acres

Countless plants and animals

Well, maybe not countless… In fact, on May 3rd and 4th nearly 70 volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Clark Reservation State Park with one goal in mind: spend 24 hours searching for all the plants, animals, fungi, lichen, and even bacteria found in the park. This type of inventory is usually called a BioBlitz. The BioBlitz at Clark Reservation also had another purpose. There was a special focus on rare and endangered species as well as classification of communities. Also on May 3rd was a concurrent BioBlitz at Minnewaska State Park, which also focused on rare and undocumented species.

One endangered species, the American hearts-tongue fern, is actually well documented at Clark. In fact, nearly 90% of the state’s population of this fern is found in two state parks: Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls. But since we already knew it was here, this plant was not the focus of our BioBlitz. We wanted to find undocumented species, and soon we hope to know if any were found! Volunteers have until the end of May to submit their data.

Biodiversity, the variety of living things found in one place, is often used as a measure of ecosystem health. Knowing what is in our park will help us make informed land management decisions and help us conserve our natural resources. That’s why the BioBlitz was so important.

It was also a lot of fun! All the scientists had a great time looking for the things they love, and we found a lot! A main focus for our BioBlitz was Glacier Lake, a rare meromictic lake formed at the end of the last ice age nearly 11,000 years ago. Today it is home to many species; such as eastern newts, painted and snapping turtles, fish (bullheads, walleye, pumpkin seeds to name a few), and birds (like osprey, wood ducks, and flycatchers).

Early Sunday morning I joined the birding team to look for our feathered friends. I wasn’t too excited about getting up at 5 in the morning on a Sunday, but it turned out to be worth it! I barely even noticed the cold rain! We saw a lot of great birds. Many of them like the cardinals, blue jays, chickadees and juncos you can see anytime, but some of them you are not so easy to spot. Early spring is one of the best times to look for warblers. Many species are only here for a few days as they pass through on their migration north. Others are here year-round, but when the leaves come out in the forests they are hard to spot. The highlight for the morning was the black-throated green warbler that came in close to check us out, and then followed us along the trail for a while singing for us! We also saw a black and white warbler, a small flock of yellow-rumped warblers and a yellow warbler.

All in all the BioBlitz was a huge success! Stay tuned for the results of the 2 Bioblitzes in July here on the NYS Parks Blog.

featured image is the Botany team at the Clark Bioblitz, by Steve Young; post by Katie Mulverhill

Deer Survey at Schunnemunk Mountain

Keeping track of the deer populations in NYS Parks isn’t a pretty job. On Monday, March 31st, a team from New York State Offices of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation traveled to Schunnemunk Mountain to carry out a deer pellet survey. Schunnemunk Mountain is located in Schunnemunk State Park in Orange County. One problem that the state parks are facing is deer overpopulation. The large populations of deer are eating native plants and causing a decrease in biodiversity. To inform our knowledge of deer populations, State Parks monitor the deer pellets left in parks to estimate the number of deer in a region.

To make estimates of deer numbers in a large area, wildlife specialists draw parallel transects across the park area.

Schunnemunk transect map

Schunnemunk deer pelletsFollowing the transect using compass and GPS, the surveyors measure out points 100 feet apart and scan the ground for pellet groups at each point. Points have a radius of four feet in every direction (See figure below). When counting pellets, we look for at least 10 pellets in a grouping. The number of pellet groups can help surveyors estimate the number of deer living in the area.

Schunnemunk diagram

Naturally, this process involves scrambling through thick brush, across boggy creeks, and over big rocks, but it is all in the name of science!

Of course, it also means catching some lovely views from the top of Schunnemuck Mountain.

 

Post by Mary Greagan and Paris Harper, photos by Paris Harper

Bear Tagging

The NY Department of Environmental Conservation maintains about 3-5 radio-collared female bears every year in order to collect long-term data on the reproduction and movement of black bears. As you can imagine, getting collars on bears is not an easy business. This winter, when a rabbit hunter hunter reported a denning black bear with cubs at Pinnacle State Park, the DEC knew that this was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed.

Adult female black bears give birth every other year, with birthing occurring around mid-January. Collars are never put on small cubs because they grow quickly and the collar would pose a strangulation risk. However, DEC felt that the mother bear identified by the hunter would be an ideal target for collaring.

This winter, DEC partnered with State Parks, the Black Bear Management class at Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, and veterinarians and technicians from Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester in order to radio-collar one female black bear.  The process involves tranquilizing the bear while still in her den in order to attach the collar. Because the bear is usually immobilized for half an hour to an hour, the specialists also need to care for the cubs and keep them warm while others are working on their mother.

The following link to a YouTube video will give you a good idea of what a den visit entails,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJRDpTUIrJI

bear tagging 3

Bear cubs are very cute, but please remember that approaching mother bears and cubs, in their dens or out, is extremely dangerous!

photo by Josh and Jim McGonigal

The official blog for New York State Parks & Historic Sites

%d bloggers like this: