Cree trappers working to save endangered bats in northern Quebec
Tallymen helping to identify suitable habitat on their traplines
Cree tallymen in the James Bay region of Quebec are working with biologists to help protect two endangered bat species — the little brown bat and the northern long-eared bat.
The tallymen, or Cree land stewards, are collaborating with the non-profit environmental group FaunENord in northern Quebec to identify and enhance habitat for the bats at the northern end of their range in the province. The project is in collaboration with the Cree-run Nibiischii Wildlife Reserve, which has a mandate to work on conservation in the territory.
"[The tallymen] know their hunting territory better than anyone else," said Willie J. Loon, a Mistissini-based representative for the Cree Trappers Association (CTA), which is supporting the project.
"They can show [biologists] the areas where they have seen bats — in the woods, near lakes and grasslands."
This past summer, 25 tallymen and land users from Mistissini, Oujé-Bougoumou and Nemaska were interviewed about bat sightings on their land and were asked to identify areas that would be suitable habitats for the creatures.
"Bats are affected by a lot of threats right now," said Audrey Lauzon, biologist with FaunENord.
"Considering that we are a region that is also experiencing a lot of forest harvesting and mining, the goal here is just to protect the habitat that would be really useful for the bats."
The two bats are under threat from development and what's known as white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that is causing steep declines in some bat populations, according Lauzon. The fungus causes a white fuzz to develop on the bat's face.
Bats are important allies
Lauzon says bats are very important allies in the fight against climate change, and eat invasive species of bugs that threaten northern forests.
"Bats are becoming really important to control those [insect] populations to prevent them from creating damage in the forest," said Lauzon.
"They are really important in the food web."
She says the collaboration with the tallymen has been very important in identifying parts of a vast territory that could be suitable places for bats to roost, such as old trees, abandoned cabins and cliffs.
"We really need to find those really interesting structures to enhance the probability that we will be able to find those bats," said Lauzon. The project is also making bat boxes available through FaunENord to Cree tallymen in inland communities to help give the animals the best chance of survival.
The first phase of the project involved installing ultrasound detectors for a few days in areas identified by the tallymen, in the hopes of picking up on the sound of bats trying to locate their prey.
"Those [ultrasound] detectors are able to detect the bats. And with that data, we [are] able to know what types of species are present," said Lauzon, adding they are also attaching ultrasounds to their vehicle and travelling the territory overnight hoping to detect the sound of bats.
The researchers will be in Nemaska at the end of October, and also plan to go back to Mistissini. The second phase of the project will be to study bat activity in winter.
For Loon, the information gathered will help the Cree Nation in the future.
"It will provide us with lots of information on how to prevent from harming the bats that they are not extinct from our region," Loon said.
"We want this research project to work and that is why we are reaching out to [tallymen] to be mindful when they have sighting where these bats are."