Nova Scotia

Proposed Annapolis Co. partial harvest could threaten endangered bat, says naturalist

A Nova Scotia naturalist says the proposed harvest of a forest in Annapolis County could jeopardize the survival of the little brown bat, an endangered species that's already been decimated by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that attacks hibernating colonies.

Little brown bat population in Nova Scotia has been decimated by white-nose syndrome

The little brown bat, or myotis lycifunus, which means ‘fleer from light,’ was added to Nova Scotia’s list of protected species in 2013. (Submitted by Cory Olson)

A Nova Scotia naturalist says the proposed harvest of a forest in Annapolis County could jeopardize the survival of an endangered species of bat.

In June, Scott Leslie discovered the presence of the little brown bat in a stretch of Crown forest between Dalhousie and Corbett lakes using his "bat-detection meter," which records bats' high-frequency squeaks and translates them to a register that humans can hear.

Scott fears the forest could be the site of a harvest as early as the fall — despite the presence of the endangered mammal.

"It's disappointing, because it could be one of the first species to go extinct [in Nova Scotia] since the caribou went extinct over a hundred years ago," he told CBC's Information Morning.

The little brown bat population in Nova Scotia has been decimated by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that attacks hibernating colonies. Provincial biologists estimate the disease has wiped out as much as 98 per cent of bats from winter hibernation sites on the mainland since 2010.

The stretch of forest was initially scheduled for a harvest earlier this year. It was given a temporary reprieve after Leslie discovered it was the nesting place of endangered chimney swifts and reported those findings to the province.

Leslie is concerned plans to harvest the area could resume once the swifts rear their young and leave in the fall.

Just like swifts, bats depend on old-growth forest, like the one near Corbett Lake, to provide particular habitat, such as standing, dead, hollow trees, where they can roost and nurse their young, Leslie said.

The land was slated for logging in the spring, but those plans were temporarily put on hold after species at risk were reported in the area. (Submitted by Scott Leslie)

Based on his recording of the bats, he estimates there were three or four bats in this one location between Corbett and Dalhousie lakes. And while that may not sound like much, Leslie said it's significant.

"It's not likely you would find more than that now because that bat has basically declined so much, it's quite rare," he said.

With the bat so close to extinction, Leslie said preserving habitat for even small numbers of the mammal is crucial.

"Old growth is very important, because if you don't have habitat for roosting, you know, where are they going to live?" sais Leslie.

'Very little they can do'

He said he reported his bat findings to provincial officials and through the province's bat reporting website, but hasn't succeeded in securing a guarantee the habitat will be protected.

Leslie said he was told the province could only protect the caves where bats hibernate in the winter, "but as far as critical habitat that is needed for the rest of the year, apparently there's very little that they can do."

Bob Petrie is the director of wildlife with Nova Scotia's Department of Lands and Forestry.

He told CBC's Information Morning the department will take all information into consideration when making the final decision of whether to clear cut. 

"Recordings of bats are helpful. They don't necessarily tell us exactly where the bats are. They may just be passing overhead or passing through," said Petrie.

But saving the bat is going to take more, including ensuring the preservation of the environment it depends on, Leslie said.

"Looking into the future and setting out a plan for protecting habitat for them is extra important, because it's going to take a lot of work to bring them back from the edge of extinction," he said.

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