BLM promotes agave restoration to support bat conservation within Las Cienegas NCA

Story by Keith Hughes, Wildlife Biologist. Photos courtesy of Bat Conservation International.

The BLM Arizona Tucson Field Office is collaborating with Bat Conservation International (BCI) and the Borderland Restoration Network (BRN) in Patagonia, Arizona to promote agave restoration through planting nursery grown native agave plants on the Las Cienegas National Conservation Area (NCA). The primary goal is to encourage the growth of new agave stands to facilitate and sustain the migration pathways of nectar-feeding bats.

Nectar-rich agave flowers serve as an essential food source for the Mexican long-tongued bat and the lesser long-nosed bat. These bats follow the agave bloom northward from Mexico to the United States, where they give birth to their young, before returning south in the fall. Threats to wild agave include habitat loss due to agricultural and urban development, changing climate relative to increasing fire frequency (as exacerbated by invasive grasses), and changes in the timing of the agave bloom. This potentially results in a lack of nectar sources to sustain the bats during their migration from and to Mexico and at their maternity roosts. An increased demand for tequila and mezcal has also increased the harvest of wild agave, decreasing the available blooms/nectar source.

Two bats in flight at night, one with its nose in a flower
A bat pollinates an agave plant.

The Mexican long-tongued bat and lesser long-nosed bat are BLM Arizona sensitive species. The BLM Gila District lies within the U.S. range of both bat species, and there are several roost sites throughout the district, including at the NCA located within the Fort Huachuca Sentinel Landscape. BCI is leading an initiative to restore and enhance wild agave populations to help recover these nectar bat populations. In 2018, BCI made an aggressive pledge to work with partners, members, and supporters to plant 100,000 agaves and begin to bring back the extensive foraging habitat of these incredible pollinating bats.

BRN propagated the agave plants in their Patagonia nursery. Their volunteers, along with staff from BCI and BLM, planted 300 young agave plants at three locations in Las Cienegas in Fall 2021 and Winter 2022. Plants will be monitored and watered periodically to ensure survival. 

Four people out in a field, one with a pickaxe digging in the ground.
Volunteers for Bat Conservation International plant agave in the Las Cienegas Conservation Area.

BLM plans to continue this partnership to monitor the growth of the plants and plant additional agave in other areas of the NCA. Partnerships like these support the BLM and Fort Huachuca Sentinel Landscape’s commitment to restore areas affected by climate change and conserve at risk species.

Learn more about the Las Cienegas NCA here. Learn more about BRN’s agaves for bats program here. Learn more about BCI’s bats and agave restoration here. Learn more about the Fort Huachuca Sentinel Landscape here.