Survey finds no endangered bats

By Alex Bridges

The future Leach Run Parkway might go through bat country — just not Indiana bats.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that Stantec, an environmental consultant, caught no Indiana bats during mist-netting operation in the parkway area in August. Indiana bats are an endangered species and known to exist in Virginia.

Public Affairs Specialist Meagan Racey explained that biologists working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended the consultant perform the survey because the 1-mile road would go through territory identified as a potential habitat for the Indiana bat.

The Indiana bat was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1967, according to information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Indiana bat is still found over most of the eastern half of the country.

“We were able to say that the project would not adversely affect the Indiana bat species,” Racey said. “What this survey was able to tell us was that they’re not there and it’s not something that we need to be concerned about.”

Ornithologists and bat biologists often use mist nets to capture and study creatures. Nylon-mesh nets suspended between two poles appear nearly invisible. Stantec conducted the survey Aug. 4-8 and captured a hoary bat, seven red bats and 16 brown bats. The consultant submitted its report Aug. 25.

“None of the species from the survey were threatened or endangered species,” Racey said.

Stantec followed guidelines set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service specifically designed to determine the existence or absence of the Indiana bat. The new guidelines took effect this year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also asked the consultant to perform habitat assessments on the project area to determine the presence of the Madison cave isopod — described as an eyeless, un-pigmented, freshwater crustacean — and the smooth coneflower. The consultant found that while the coneflower, listed as an endangered species, exist in Virginia, no suitable habitat exists in the project area, Racey said. No suitable habitat exists in the area for the isopod, listed as a threatened species, Racey added.

The environmental consultant was asked if any clearing work for the project area would affect karst soil features such as sinkholes or voids and possibly disturb the habitat of the isopod, known to inhabit caves. Racey said the consultant found that the work would not affect any karst features.

The Front Royal Warren County Economic Development Authority continues its work as the lead agency on the planned highway designed to connect Va. 55 East to Happy Creek Road. Pennoni Associates is the firm hired to design the project. EDA Executive Director Jennifer McDonald said in late September that construction on the project could begin this winter or spring once the design is approved, possibly this month. Earlier this past summer the EDA, town and county officials learned that the project area might serve as a habitat for the Indiana bat – an endangered species.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service becomes involved in any project in which another federal agency is connected – in this case the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, working with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality under a state permit – Racey explained.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com