Enlightened by a Dark Performance
As the sun sinks into the horizon on a warm August afternoon, BLM Wildlife Biologist Glenn Lorton and his summer work crew depart the Lakeview District Office for the field. After a 45-minute drive through the high desert landscape, they arrive at an unassuming pond in a meadow surrounded by a ponderosa pine forest. At the scene, crew members emerge from their vehicle, inhale the sage infused air and initiate setup of their night operation. Three mist nets are stretched across the pool of water, a data collection table is assembled amongst the brush at the pond's edge, and instruments and equipment prepped.
After setting the stage for the night's impending performance, the team members assume their positions in a makeshift observation post and direct their gaze towards the heavens. At twilight, the sky becomes alive with the subject of their investigation, multiple species of bats.
A big brown bat is among the group of acrobats playfully maneuvering through the air in pursuit of insects. After completing several minutes of gymnastic feats, it approaches the surface of the water in an attempt to quench its thirst. Within seconds of decreasing its elevation, the bat is captured in one of the mist nets set by the crew.
Lorton wastes no time responding to the entrapment. He wades knee-deep through mud, water and aquatic plants to free the captive animal. Gripped gently in his hand, he carefully releases the big brown bat from the woven mesh and brings it to the data collection station. In accordance with strict protocols, the team records various measurements including the bat's weight, sex and reproductive status. A light is held under the animal's wing to assess bone formation in order to determine the bat's age. A DNA sample is collected to genetically differentiate species and provide a reference sample of the bats inhabiting the region. This process is repeated throughout the night for multiple bats captured.
Around midnight, the operation's activities come to an end. The temperature has dropped significantly, crew member fatigue is beginning to set in and the bats have completed their closing act. Final entries are entered into the data log, the field laboratory dismantled and packed into the vehicle, and the trip home commences. It has been a successful night. Significant information has been gathered that will increase human knowledge of the habits and characteristics of local bat colonies.
The crew's monitoring and inventorying efforts will continue to be conducted as long as program funding is available. Their efforts are part of a collaborative Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Humboldt University project. They are one of several teams located throughout Oregon and Washington tasked with collecting and entering bat measurements into a database for scientific analysis. The final outcome of this regional effort will be threefold: (1) call data will be utilized to develop a bat species identification software program, (2) study records will be entered into a database for the purpose of tracking bat species distribution and relative abundance throughout the area, and (3) research findings will be used to assess the impacts of resource management practices upon bat species.
This study promises to enlighten us with regard to the full impact our actions have upon the natural world. It will bring a deeper level of awareness to our decision making and the long-term consequences of our choices. It will help us prepare balanced resource management strategies that consider all plant and animal needs, including those whose existence is enshrouded in darkness.