Little brown bats get big new home at state park

FERRISBURGH — The little brown bats of Ferrisburgh’s Kingsland Bay State Park are getting a major housing upgrade thanks to the freely donated efforts of two dedicated bat enthusiasts and the local utility company.
Green Mountain Power lineworkers last Thursday morning planted four tall utility poles near the woods at the park and then used a bucket truck to hoist a 1,140-pound “bat condo” on top of them to create a new home for the flying mammals.
At the request of two state agencies — the departments of Fish and Wildlife and of Forests, Parks and Recreation — Joe Gardner and Barry Genzlinger constructed the bat house. Genzlinger is the state’s only licensed bat rehabilitator.
According to Gardner, the structure can house approximately 12,000 of the target species of little brown bats.
“I wanted to build another large bat condo because I know there’s always needs for them somewhere,” said Gardner. “I contacted Fish and Wildlife and asked them if they knew where they could use one and she said they’d check around and Kingsland Bay State Park wanted one, so we built it for them. This was the perfect spot.”
Gardner and Genzlinger, both Milton residents, have been constructing bat houses off and on for more than four decades between them, though the Kingsland Bay bat condo is the first time they’ve teamed up to do it.
The labor and machinery provided by Green Mountain Power rounded out the effort by placing the eight-foot-long and four-foot-wide bat house on top of four tall utility poles planted near the woods at the park; it looks a lot like a tree house. Two years ago, GMP installed a bat house to shelter the  little brown bats in the company’s Middlebury hydroelectric generating plant.
“We have a history of helping endangered species,” GMP spokesperson Dorothy Schnure said. “When we have the opportunity to help Vermont’s environment, we like to be able to pitch in and do that.”
Genzlinger explained that the buildings in the state park were set to be renovated and so the bat had to be removed. Rather than simply kicking the bats out and hoping they find a place to live, the plan was to build them an appropriate home.
Vermont is home to nine species of bats. Of those nine, the populations of six have been negatively affected by White-nose Syndrome. Vermont’s little brown bats have suffered a 90 percent population decline over the past few years, but through careful monitoring and efforts like this bat condo their population appears to be stabilizing.
“The idea here is this is a perfect spot for it because if the bats get displaced, they will discover this fairly quickly,” he said. “We don’t want the bats to be homeless. We want them to have a viable location, well designed, exactly what they need. So that’s what we give them.”
Fish & Wildlife Bat Biologist Alyssa Bennett said the new bat house should help the bats rebound.
“The best way for us to help recover little brown bats is to protect the survivors, so securing these summer roosts where they each raise only one young per year is incredibly important,” she said. “The fate of this species may depend largely on the generosity of concerned citizens like Joe Gardner and partnerships with organizations and businesses like Green Mountain Power.”
Bats live into their 20s and 30s and return to the same place year after year, so the new bat condo will provide the opportunity for the bat population in the area to grow. And the new bat condo is built to last.
“Joe’s done a heck of a job building this thing, my gosh,” Genzlinger said. “It’s rock-solid.”
Fish and Wildlife officials will provide guidance to property owners who want to safely evict unwanted bats in buildings, along with recommendations on proper bat house design and placement with the goal of conserving this endangered species. To learn more visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com/learn_more/living_with_wildlife/got_bats.

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