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Tina Casey headshot

Beyond Halloween: Make A Difference During Bat Week

By Tina Casey
Bat Week

Local environmental projects have long been a common ingredient in many corporate responsibility recipes. The challenge is to keep the effort fresh and interesting, helping to grow participation among employees, customers and the public at large. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how businesses can leverage Bat Week to bring renewed attention to local conservation efforts.

Wait, what is Bat Week?

Bat Week is an annual, international effort aimed at raising public awareness of the role of bats in the natural environment.

This year, Bat Week coincides with the run-up to Halloween night in the United States, from this Thursday, October 24, through October 31, a time of year when bats and other nocturnal creatures take center stage in the public imagination.

Halloween is also a time when consumers head for the stores. According to the latest survey from the American Retail Federation, shoppers in the U.S. plan to spend a total of $8.8 billion on Halloween items, for an average of more than $86 per person. Even more interesting, the same survey showed that 29 million people plan to dress their pets for Halloween.

In other words, Bat Week provides businesses with an opportunity to spread the bat conservation message to millions of shoppers, including those who already consider animals part of the family.

Bats and the triple bottom line

Although the connection with Halloween conjures up scary images in U.S. popular culture, the reality is that bats perform critical roles in local ecosystems.

In particular, the U.S. Forest Service advises that bats are an effective alternative to chemical insecticides, insect repellants and electric “bug zappers.” Bats save the U.S. agriculture and forestry industries billions of dollars yearly in, addition to tamping down the population of biting insects around residential areas.

Among the statistics cited by the Forest Service:

  • A single little brown bat can catch more than 1,200 mosquitoes-sized insects in one hour.
  • A colony of 150 big brown bats can protect local farmers from up to 33 million or more rootworms each summer.
  • The 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats living in Bracken Cave, Texas, eat approximately 200 tons of insects nightly.

Bats are also important pollinators and dispersers of seeds, helping to ensure biodiversity in local habitats.

How to help, part 1

As with many other species, bat populations are increasingly threatened by the impact of human activities on the planet.

The problem for conservationists is that relatively few details are known about bat ecology.

One thing is certain, though. Bats have been losing access to their favored roosting places, including caves, abandoned mines, and tree cavities.

That is why the USDA and many bat conservationists recommend installing bat houses.

Bat houses are easy to build, and they are also available for purchase. Whether DIY or store-bought, a bat house should conform to recommended design guidelines.

According to the Forest Service, bat houses should be about 24 to 36 inches tall and just 4 to 5 inches deep. The interior can be separated into up to four roosting chambers of about 3/4” wide (the narrow spacing discourages wasps from taking up residence).

The placement of bat houses is also important. Bats prefer houses mounted on poles or on the sides of buildings, located at least 10 feet above ground. Ideally, they should be 15 to 20 feet above ground, and at least 20 to 25 feet from the nearest tree.

Research is also showing that bat houses should not be hung in areas where they are exposed to bright lights at night, but they do need to be situated where they can receive at least six hours of sunlight daily (or more, in northern states).

To top it off, bat houses should be located in or near a diverse habitat, and with 1/4 mile of water.

With all that said, are you ready for your company’s next community project?

How to help, part 2

With all of these factors to consider, it may be difficult or impossible for a business to entice bats into setting up housekeeping on their property.

However, there are still many other opportunities to help educate the public, for example by funding a bat education program at a local library.

Businesses can also explore opportunities to support federal bat conservation programs.

The U.S. Forest Service alone, for example, has jurisdiction over approximately 25,000 abandoned mines on its properties across the U.S. Under past practices, abandoned mines were completely sealed to prevent unauthorized access. The new, bat-friendly practice is to install iron grates over mine entrances, so bats can reach their prime roosting spots.

Businesses seeking more information volunteer on bat conservation opportunities can contact their State Department of Natural Resources, or contact Bat Conservation International or the Organization for Bat Conservation.

Going to bat for the future

Another way to help is to support research efforts aimed at preventing the deadly “white-nose syndrome” disease, which has wiped out bat populations across the U.S. and elsewhere.

To organize and focus R&D efforts on white-nose disease, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service launched the Bats for the Future initiative in 2016.

Bats for the Future is funded mainly by the Fish and Wildlife Service, with an assist from the U.S. Forest Service and two leading energy firms, Southern Company and Avangrid, the latter through the Avangrid Foundation.

Researchers have developed some promising treatments for white-nose disease in recent years, but there is a long way to go.

Businesses have ample opportunity to step up and help at this critical point in bat conservation, and the Halloween season provides a fun, engaging platform for spreading the word about bats.

Image credit: Marion Wellmann/Pixabay

Tina Casey headshot

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes.

Read more stories by Tina Casey