A local bat biologist says there has not been enough planning for logging in a sensitive habitat near Nelson.
“They are killing bats as we speak,” says Dr. Cori Lausen.
She thinks BC Timber Sales (BCTS) has gone halfway toward protecting the large population of bats that live in three cutblocks in the Smallwood Creek drainage above Beasley.
It has decided not to log in the summer to protect nursery trees used by bats in the summer.
BCTS plans to log in the winter instead, and are in fact doing so now.
But winter logging is also dangerous to bats at this site, Lausen says, because they use trees in the area for hibernation. She says no one knows if those hibernation trees are the same trees as the summer roost trees, and more research is needed.
BCTS declined to be interviewed for this story but an email from Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development states that the company has done enough for bats by deciding not to log in the summer and by identifying summer nursery trees, which will be preserved. The email said Lausen had been properly consulted.
Lausen said there should be buffer zones around any known winter roost trees spared, but the ministry email did not address this.
“BCTS has adequately protected bat habitat [and] no further actions are planned,” the email states.
The old Queen Victoria mine, and the forests around it, is one of the most significant bat sites in the country, and no logging should take place in the vicinity, Lausen says.
The mine was gated from the public in 2012 to protect the bats.
Trees in the vicinity of the mine should not be cut down, Lausen says, because this is the perfect research site for a species that we know very little about, and from which we benefit in many ways.
The species of particular interest to Lausen is the silverhaired bat, which is being considered by the federal government for protected status. This species hibernates in trees, but when it gets very cold they will go into the mine.
“This is the only location in Canada where we know this species hibernates, and it uniquely moves between trees and the mine throughout winter,” she says, adding that in many other parts of the country the species migrates south of the border.
Because they stay around all winter, this is a unique opportunity to study them, she says.
A research opportunity
Lausen sees many reasons to prioritize bat populations even though they do not have the appeal of larger, more photogenic species like the mountain caribou.
Bats could potentially help us fight the pandemic because they have the ability to fight off many viruses without succumbing to disease. Their immune systems react differently from ours, she says.
“They are an interesting species to study right now because of this uniqueness.”
Bats control insect pests, she says, many of which are currently eradicated by spraying pesticides in both agriculture and forestry.
“It’s the presence of the bats that actually keeps us from having to depend [even more] on spraying.”
She says if you have a colony of bats roosting in your attic, you are lucky.
“They spend the first 15 minutes or even a half an hour [in the evening] foraging right around the opening of their roost. They take out a lot of bugs – they eat their own body weight in insects on a warm summer night – that’s a phenomenal amount of insects.”
Bats are not doing well across Canada for various reasons, Lausen says, and much of her research is devoted to preventing the entry into Canada of white nose syndrome, a fungus-caused disease that is killing millions of bats world-wide.
Logging the area around the cave threatens this research and the integrity of the bat population there, she says.
Lausen currently supervises Master of Science students as an adjunct professor at Thompson Rivers University, University of BC Okanagan and the University of Northern BC.
As a research and conservation biologist, she leads the Western Canada Bat Conservation Program for Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (wcsbats.ca), with projects including community outreach and researching treatment for white nose syndrome.
She sits on a variety of national and international bat conservation committees.
The Smallwood logging will not actually be done by BCTS but by Kalesnikoff Lumber, to whom BCTS auctioned off the timber sale licence. But the logging plan for the area was drawn up by BCTS and is not changeable by Kalesnikoff, according to a Kalesnikoff spokesperson.
Wildlife protection legislation
The Kootenay Boundary Wildlife Features Order, a piece of provincial legislation, lists bat hibernacula (trees in which bats hibernate) among a list of official wildlife features that should be protected.
A field guide that accompanies the order states: “Forest and range activities must not damage or render ineffective a wildlife habitat feature. To do this, agreement holders must make themselves aware of known wildlife habitat features and identify new wildlife habitat features. They are also required to take measures to protect these features when carrying out routine forest or range activities.”
Lausen wonders if the BCTS plan is in line with the wildlife order, if the company does not have plan for hibernation trees.
“If governments and forestry companies don’t follow the guidance that the government puts out,” she asks, “then who will?”