Endangered bats complicate projects
Local developments held up for habitat study, accommodation measures
To the untrained eye a bat is a bat. They eerily swoop around in the pale moonlight sometimes flying into your home or through your hair.
But in recent years, certain bat species, such as the little brown myotis and northern myotis, have suffered startling declines and become listed as endangered. This has led to Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry biologists starting to demand habitat studies at development projects to determine if the creatures are using trees in a project’s pathway. If endangered bats are present, substitute breeding habitat has to be created or the trees are to be left alone.
Now the issue has come to roost in Hamilton with two major construction projects being held up this summer by concerns about endangered bats — the $3-million sports park project at Confederation Park and a 20-hectare expansion of the Ancaster Business Park.
“I think as a city we’re going to have to start better understanding what it means for future projects when it comes to endangered bats,” Cynthia Graham, the city’s manager of landscape architectural services, said.
As well, she said, the area is so new that no one is clear about the costs involved in restoring suitable habitat for endangered bats which are displaced by construction.
With the sports park development — that proposes a cricket field and 12 pickleball courts — bats were discovered last summer and accommodation measures are being worked out that could include everything
from reforesting an 0.87-hectare lot to installing “bat boxes” and other faux breeding grounds, said Graham.
In the business park example, the MNRF has requested a developer go through a habitat study to determine if myotis bat species or the more recently listed tri-coloured bat are using a woodlot that is slated to have a new road pass through it.
“If they find evidence of the bats in that area, we’ll have to look at what mitigation should be put in place,” said Guy Paparella, the city’s director of growth.
Habitat studies, that are required before an Endangered Species Act permit is granted, usually involve acoustic monitoring, said Anne Marie Laurence, management biologist with the MNRF.
“Bats produce high frequency calls — most not audible to humans — at night when they hunt prey and navigate ... acoustic monitors can record these calls and software can be used to identify species,” she wrote in an email.
Paparella says developers making allowances for species at risk is nothing new. Rare birds — such as the bobolink that likes grassland areas — and salamanders have led to numerous redrafted plans over the years in the province.
The highest profile example in Hamilton of recent times involved the southern flying squirrel.
The rare squirrel was discovered in the Red Hill Valley — where the parkway was to be built. Its habitat was restored by using a series of giant telephone poles as faux trees for the squirrels to fly between.
“But I’ve been here for 30 years and it’s the first time I have had to deal with bats,” said Paparella, who is involved with the Ancaster development.
The protection for bats comes after millions have died from white-nose syndrome, a type of fungal growth around the muzzle and on the wings of hibernating bats.
Laurence said the bats look for trees of all types and like locations with abundant insects.
“To give birth to and raise their young, little brown myotis and northern myotis select trees with loose bark, cracks, crevices, hollows and cavities,” said Laurence.
“Larger and taller trees may be selected more often since they receive more sunlight which creates a warmer environment for pups to grow.”
I’ve been here for 30 years and it’s the first time I have had to deal with bats. GUY PAPARELLA CITY OF HAMILTON
Bats are in need of protection as a fungus decimates their population numbers.