Conservation Partners Protect Nearly 500 Acres of Priority Bat Habitat
Lexington, Kentucky | September 06, 2017
The Nature Conservancy in Kentucky recently closed on the largest conservation easement in its history, protecting nearly 500 acres of priority habitat for the federally endangered Indiana bat and gray bat.
The easement includes two Edmonson County cave systems–Coach Cave and James Cave–and forested habitat surrounding the caves. These protected habitats are important for the conservation and recovery of the two endangered bat species and the threatened northern long-eared bat.
The Conservancy worked with the Noble family, which owns the land; state and federal partners, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources; and private organizations, including the Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund, the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, and the James Cave Project, Inc., to achieve this pivotal conservation success. The property has been a priority for conservation for more than 40 years. A portion of the site was intended to be a National Wildlife Refuge more than 30 years ago, but several attempts to buy the property proved unsuccessful. The new easement adds language into the land deed which protects the area for wildlife.
“Conservation successes at this scale don’t happen overnight,” said David Phemister, state director for the Conservancy’s Kentucky chapter. “They can only happen when partners work together in a sustained effort toward our shared goals. I am proud of the work we have accomplished together, which will result in real, lasting conservation benefits for endangered bats and other wildlife.”
The cave systems protected by the easement currently provide winter habitat to 300,000 to 400,000 gray bats (Myotis grisescens) and historically to more than 60,000 Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis). Population numbers across these species’ ranges have declined due to habitat loss, human disturbance, or White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease. Indiana bats and gray bats require very specific cave habitats; the gray bat, for example, utilizes only 0.01 percent of available caves for hibernation in the winter. Coach Cave was commercialized in the late 1960's, which conservationists believe was the catalyst for a decline in Indiana bats there, from 4,500 Indiana bats recorded in 1975 to no Indiana bats currently. Only 40 Indiana bats are currently using James Cave for hibernation.
“Coach and James Caves are not only two of the most important bat hibernacula in Kentucky, but also in the eastern United States,” said Mike Armstrong, Southeast region bat recovery coordinator for U.S. Fish and Wildlife. “The caves are home, each winter, to over 90 percent of wintering gray bats in the Commonwealth. The caves are also in the top 15 gray bat wintering populations range-wide.”
The easement includes language that prevents development that could threaten bat habitat, limits access and disturbance to the cave system, and conserves and enhances the forests above the caves. Landowner Nick Noble, who owns Park Mammoth Resort on the property with his brother Nate, views his family’s business interests and bat conservation as compatible priorities.
“In addition to our resort serving as a prime tourist and conference destination, we are proud to be stewards of our unique bat resources and are excited to continue our work promoting public education about bats and their importance,” said Noble.
Bats are beneficial to humans, thanks to their pollination and pest control capabilities. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, bats save the agricultural industry more than $3 billion per year by naturally controlling pests such as mosquitoes. A Conservation Easement Resource Management Plan will guide the conservation partners in their respective roles in future forest, cave and bat management on the property. A key protection strategy outlined in the Resource Management Plan strictly limits bat disturbance by maintaining cave gates and implementing detailed protocols for cave access.
“The James Cave Project, Inc. is a proud member of this unique team and this historic agreement,” said Jim Honaker, the group’s president. “It is our honor to be in a position to continue the stewardship of the caves and the bat populations and ecosystems within.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.