League Lines: Nature-Loving Ninjas

Arlington Fairfax Chapter_Boy Scouts Bat Project

Virginia >> Many League chapters have partnered with Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops to accomplish conservation goals. How many have teamed up with ninjas?! Actually, the youth volunteers helping the Arlington-Fairfax Chapter were members of a Boy Scout troop with the patrol name “Stick Ninjas.” But they were fearless in the face of wildlife conservation challenges.

Arlington-Fairfax Chapter member Michael Carney had been reading about the spread of white-nose syndrome — a disease that is decimating bat populations across the eastern half of the country. Bat fatalities have reached almost 7 million in just a few short years. These losses could have a significant impact on agriculture and our everyday lives due to the role bats play in controlling in- sect populations. Scientists are closely monitoring bat colonies as they hibernate in the winter and tracking bats when they move to maternity and bachelor colonies in the warmer weather. One step people can take to help the remaining bats is to construct summer shelters — commonly known as bat boxes — for maternity colonies to try to keep infected bats away from others.

Chris Olsen, a Boy Scout troop leader in Springfield, Virginia, was looking for conservation project ideas to help his Scouts earn outdoor-related merit badges. He asked friend Michael Carney for suggestions. Carney saw a golden opportunity to educate the Scouts on a timely and critical conservation issue.

Carney owns 72 acres in the town of Stanley, Virginia. It’s Blue Ridge Mountain country, which means plenty of caves and plenty of bats. Carney did not know whether his local bat population had been hit with white-nose syndrome, but he did know that the trail of the disease cut through Virginia along the line of the Blue Ridge Mountains. So it seemed a good locale for efforts to protect remaining bats.

Carney researched construction plans for bat boxes along with details on how to appropriately site the boxes to attract bats in the summer months. Olsen organized his Scouts to construct the bat boxes. While they worked, Carney spoke to them about the role bats play in nature, the decline in bat populations, and the purpose of the bat boxes. Then about 12 of the Scouts took a day and traveled the 90 miles to Carney’s property in Stanley, Virginia, to install the boxes. While there, Carney and Olsen spoke with the Scouts about why particular locations were best for bat boxes and what type of environment maternity colonies need. The Scouts planted several trees as well to improve wildlife habitat.

Carney is keeping an eye on the boxes to check for roosting bats. It can take a few years for bats to locate new shelters, but if the boxes remain unoccupied, Carney will relocate them and try again.