Thursday, April 22, 2010

Batty for Earth Day

Here is a story I learned of from our Southwest District Office that just screeches to be told this Earth Day:

Once upon a time ... well, ok, in 2004, there was a cave in McDonald County that was becoming popular for curious people - a little too popular, really. The current residents of the cave, such as bats and salamanders, were struggling to survive due to frequent visits from humans. The cave also wasn't considered structurally sound for explorers.
MoDOT heeded the recommendation from the Missouri Department of Conservation to install a gate -- something to keep people out but allow the bats to come and go freely from their home. The gate also allows the natural stream inside to flow as it has for thousands of years.
"The Conservation Department suggested we use angled steel because bats use sonar to navigate their way," said Senior Biological Specialist Alan Leary. "Sound bounces off the angled steel and guides bats through the gate. Rebar, which isn't angled, would affect the sonar, causing the bats to harm themselves trying to get in or out of the gate. They would leave the cave, thus affecting the cave's ecosystem and environment."
Prior to the gate's installation, the highest number of bats reported in the cave was about 25, mostly the Eastern Pipestrelle.
Leary said there were also reports of salamander larvae in the cave that probably would not have lived to adulthood because of the human disturbances.
Here comes the happy ending: In January 2010, Leary visited the cave and saw more than 250 Eastern Pipestrelles and four adult Ozark blind salamanders, also known as grotto salamanders.
"MoDOT normally isn't popular with cavers and spelunkers," Leary said, "but I think installing the gate to save the cave and its animals has mended those relationships. And we always like to do positive things for the environment."
And they lived happily ever after. Happy Earth Day!