Weighing less than a pound and spanning about 10 inches, the mouse-eared Indiana bat has been winging its way into recent Hall County transportation projects.
And now the federally protected creature plays a role in the Gainesville-based Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests’ update of its 2004 Land and Resource Management Plan.
The Forest Service proposes to add several requirements, including that trees known to have been used as roosts by Indiana bats are protected from cutting or other disruptions “until they are no longer suitable as roost trees.”
“Tree cutting, prescribed burning (and) aerial pesticide application may not be conducted within 2.5 miles of any Indiana bat maternity colony,” states the Forest Service in an April 23 legal notice.
Said Forest Service spokeswoman Judy Toppins: “Because the bats occupy similar habitats, the Forest Service is proactively amending our forest plan to also manage for this species.”
According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the bat was listed as an endangered species in 1967 “due to episodes of people disturbing hibernating bats in caves during winter and killing large numbers of bats.”
In April 2012, a female Indiana bat was radio-tracked from a winter hibernating spot in Tennessee to state property outside Ellijay, says the Forest Service.
“The female bat and 12-15 unknown others were documented roosting under loose bark for approximately 10 days in April. This indicates that suitable summer/maternity habitat is likely to be present in North Georgia, but to what extent is unknown.”
North Georgia forests represent the southern edge of the summer range of Indiana bats, and population densities are likely to be extremely low, according to the agency, which falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Indiana bats were not considered in the final Environmental Impact Statement for the 2004 Land and Resource Management Plan “because, at that time, an Indiana bat had not been observed in Georgia for almost 30 years.”
Over the past few years, the bat has become familiar to area road planners and engineers, as well as the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The DOT had to consider work restrictions in specific locations on the Clarks Bridge replacement project over Lake Lanier because of the bat’s habitat.
Basically, the agency “must protect the bat habitat from May 15 to Oct. 15, as that is the time bats could be in the area,” district spokeswoman Teri Pope has said.
“Hall is one of the counties where the Indiana bat habitat is possible, so all projects had to be reviewed for their habitat,” she said in August, just as work was about to start on the $8.7 million project.
“No bats were found on this project, but the area is a likely habitat,” Pope said. “So, DOT did not allow land disturbance work to occur in the area of their ... habitat during the time bats could be in the area.”
The project is moving along, as crews have just poured the eighth of 12 concrete caissons for the bridge on Ga. 284/Clarks Bridge Road.
The bat also served to delay work on Hall County’s segment of the planned Central Hall Multiuse Trail, running along Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway near Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.
The Forest Service is seeking public input on the plan’s revisions, with comments due by May 23.
“Comments will be used to identify relevant issues and help guide the environmental analysis,” the agency’s notice states.