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PIERRE -- The state Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) is leading an effort to identify natural caves and abandoned mines that provide habitat for Black Hills bats.

Although some bat species are very adaptable, others depend strongly on underground sites, such as caves and mines, for places to hibernate and rest between feeding bouts. Such areas are increasingly vulnerable to loss from natural erosion around cave or mine entrances, or they are impacted by intentional or accidental disturbance. Many abandoned mines have been permanently sealed for liability reasons without first determining whether bats use the site.

Game, Fish and Parks has contracted with Joel Tigner of Rapid City to identify and categorize natural caves or abandoned mines for their importance to bats, along with other considerations, such as land ownership, site stability, and archaeological issues.

"Once agreement is reached with the private or government landowner, a bat gate is installed to allow bats continued access to the site, but to prohibit human entry during times when disturbance could harm the bats," said Endangered Species Biologist Eileen Dowd Stukel. "Given the dangers associated with entry into abandoned mines, gate closures are effective year-round. Natural caves that are gated are only closed during the hibernation season, and those located on public land are open to the public during the balance of the year."

To date, nine sites, including one funded by the U. S. Forest Service, have been gated in the South Dakota portion of the Black Hills. Sites include two caves and seven mines. Of the 11 species of bats known to reside in the Black Hills of South Dakota, eight depend on underground roosting sites for their survival.

"Not every mine or cave provides the conditions bats need," Tigner noted. "In addition, each species has specific roost requirements that may differ from other bat species in the area. For example, some species require sites with high humidity, while others need just the opposite. All eight of these species have shown acceptance of these specially designed bat gates at their roosts."

Bats are the main predators of night-flying insects and therefore an important contributor to a healthy ecosystem. Many insects eaten by bats are agricultural and forestry pests. Many bat diets also include mosquitoes (known to be responsible for the spread of West Nile Virus). Bats have voracious appetites and can easily eat their weight in insects in a single evening.

This project is being funded with state (GFP Wildlife Division) and federal funds (Wildlife Conservation and Restoration Program). Additional cooperators include Black Hills National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management and several private landowners in the Black Hills.





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