They hang upside down and flutter around in the dark. They eat moths, wasps, mosquitos and other insects. But for the city, three species of bats are in the way of completing a long-awaited industrial park project.
The species at risk are the latest wrinkle in the city's 12-year-old goal to extend a road out of the Ancaster Industrial Park. The little brown myotis, northern myotis and tri-coloured bat are all on Canada's species at risk list.
The provincial Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) says the area includes "suitable habitat" for all three species. Now the developer, Ted Valeri, is surveying to determine if the bats are there. If they are, Valeri has to resubmit a form to the province again.
That's holding up the project by months, said Guy Paparella, the city's director of growth planning. It's a headache for the city, which wants its road built.
When Valeri builds his 20-hectare extension to the park, Paparella said, he'll build part of the road extension and deed it to the city. But Valeri's work is stalled because some of that 20 hectares includes woodlot and wetland.
"We're trying to help him along," Paparella said. "We want to get the road built."
It's been a difficult project, he said. "Usually it's one thing. It's not five things. That's not the normal course."
The road issue dates back to 2005. That's when the city first looked into extending Neil Everson Way — formerly Cormorant Drive — from the Ancaster Industrial Park out to Trinity Road.
Hurdles have included a lengthy Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) review after a neighbouring land owner asked for a phase two environmental assessment, known as a "bump up." MNR rejected that.
The province also found the area to be the potential home of the eastern meadowlark and bobolink bird species. The city is looking at options to replace the lost habitat.
The road is key to how the industrial park functions. Right now, there's only one access road. Neil Everson Way stops dead, so vehicles have no choice but to reach the end and turn around. That causes a traffic bottleneck, Paparella said, and it's a problem for emergency vehicles too.
The remaining plan to build out to Trinity Road — a distance of about 700 metres — has two phases. The most immediate involves Valeri building the road as part of his industrial park project, then deeding the road to the city. Then the city will build the rest of the way.
As for the bats, the three species are classified as endangered in Canada. All three are small (about 7.4 grams on average) and eat insects.
The little brown myotis likes day roosting in buildings and visible areas, such as around lakes and streetlights. The northern myotis is common in forests, while the tri-coloured bat is found in a variety of habitats.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) says over the last six years, as many as 6.7 million bats of several species — but mainly little brown myotis — have died in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada. This is in part, COSEWIC says, because of white nose syndrome, a fungal infection that likely originated in Europe.
Bats in general are in trouble, said Merlin Tuttle, renowned bat expert and founder of Merlin Tuttle's Bat Conservation in Texas. "There's no question that many species are in alarming decline." And protecting their habitat is important.
Examining this property on Google Earth, Tuttle isn't sure it's prime land for bats. It would be more important, he said, if it was contiguous to a larger forested property.
"Instead of spending money counting bats in a marginal location," he said, "I would prefer to see the same funds devoted to habitat enhancement or expansion at a more suitable one."