Darlene Hartford was overwhelmed the first time she saw the size of the bat colony living in the attic of an old school in Peachland.
Boarded shut for 10 years, the attic’s timber frames were blanketed with small Yuma myotis bats, forming a colony of approximately 2,000. Hartford had never seen anything like it.
“Everyone knew there were bats in that building, but I had no idea that it would look like that,” said Hartford, president of the Bat Education and Ecological Protection Society in Peachland. “It was recommended that we develop an educational program around the colony, so we immediately got started.”
The former school, built in 1908, has since been turned into the Peachland Visitor Centre, where about 4,000 visitors stop in each year to see one of the largest bat colonies in the province. A camera broadcasting a live feed of the maternity colony has been set up at the visitor centre from March to October. The community has also created a bat interpretive trail that leads to bat houses in eight locations, hosts bat chats with tourists and schools, and holds weekly bat surveys during the summer months where people sit in lawn chairs counting the bats as they feast on insects.
Hartford is proud of the way the community has embraced bats and its efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. The BC Community Bat Program recently designated Peachland as the second bat-friendly community in the province.
“We take a lot of pride in that designation,” said Hartford, noting the society is also working with the town to install bat-friendly lighting. “There wasn’t a lot of information about bats when the first camera was installed, so there was a lot of fear. We had to discredit a lot of myths that were going on about bats flying into your hair and just being a dangerous animal. Bats are typically shy animals and don’t attack people unless they feel threatened.”
To help individuals and communities interested in creating, maintaining and enhancing bat habitats, the BC Community Bat Program launched the Bat Friendly Communities initiative in 2016.
Several bat species live in close association with humans and some species rely extensively on man-made structures for roosting sites and raising offspring. However, they continue to face several threats, the biggest being white-nose syndrome (WNS) – a deadly disease that has nearly wiped out several common bat species in eastern North America in just a few years. The disease has yet to be detected in B.C., but has been found in Washington state, 150 kilometres from the border.
Dawson Creek was the first community to receive the bat-friendly community designation when it committed to building and monitoring bat houses for roosting, handing out brochures about bats and celebrating International Bat Week. Mandy Kellner, BC Community Bat Program co-ordinator, is thrilled to see several other groups working towards the designation for their community, but noted many people have already become local bat ambassadors on their own.
“If a community is more aware it has bats in its watershed or its local park, you’ve already done something right there,” said Kellner, noting the newest detection of WNS was on the east side of the Coast Mountains at Cle Elem, Wash. in the spring. “It’s important to encourage people to do whatever they can for bat conservation and this designation is one more tool to get positive actions happening.
“It’s probably heading north to B.C. in the future. We’re expecting large population declines so anything that humans can do to support bats and keep them around is important right now. Bats are major predators of agriculture and forest insects, they eat our mosquitos, so they are important to keep everything in balance.”
Oct. 24 to 31 marks International Bat Week, which is held to celebrate the role of bats in nature. The public is also reminded to be on the lookout for dead bats as part of the winter WNS surveillance period. Anyone who finds a dead bat is asked to report it as soon as possible to the Community Bat Program at 1 855 922-2287 or: firstname.lastname@example.org
Written and released by BC Government.