With Vermont’s bat numbers on a decline, the state’s Fish & Wildlife Department is looking at innovative ways to help save the animals.
One way has been to construct bat houses where females can roost and raise their babies during the day. To get construction underway, the department teamed up with the Department of Corrections to build up to 200 houses.
“We have a history of doing habitat projects with inmates,” said Forrest Hammond, a wildlife biologist who thought of the project. “We thought they could build some bat houses to help the state bat program. We thought this would be a good project.”
The inmates at the Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor took on the challenge and have since built 50 bat houses. Another 150 more are under construction.
“It’s a major construction project,” Hammond said.
The bat shelters are about 3 feet by 2 feet and would be attached to the exterior of people’s houses.
“This project educated these inmates about the problems Vermont’s bat populations are facing,” said Paul Brosseau, work crew foreman at the correctional facility. “They were very happy to help and to give back to the community.”
The project was funded through the Windsor Coon Hunters Association, which donated $150 for hardware and materials. The corrections facilities had some material left over from other projects that they were able to use.
According to Fish and Wildlife, there has been an unprecedented mortality of six species of cave bats due to what is called white-nose syndrome, in which a fungus invades the skin and breaks down the tissue in hibernating bats.
The disease was first documented in New York during the winter of 2006 and quickly spread to Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut and has now affected 6 million bats in 22 states and four Canadian provinces, according to the USGS’s National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisc.
The already constructed bat houses were distributed earlier this month to families who regularly observe bats near their homes.
“I always try to do hands-on projects with the kids and they would need to paint the houses before they took them,” Hammond said.
The rest will be used as part of the state’s bat projects.
“We feel pretty good about how it turned out,” Hammond said. “The inmates did a wonderful job.”
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