It’s a bat, man! How West Fraser protects the animal in our Hinton FMA

There are thousands of different animal species that share the forests where we have our harvesting activities. At West Fraser, we consider every user of the forest and balance our activities to meet their needs better. The animals include the often-maligned bat, which deserves protection in its own right, and there is much we can do to protect these critters.

In Alberta, there are officially nine different bat species in the province, some of which are migratory and others which are not. While all nine species are a conservation concern for numerous reasons, two species are endangered in Canada due to a disease called white-nose syndrome.

The little brown myotis and northern myotis bats are affected by this fungal disease, and, similar to the coronavirus, white-nose syndrome is quick-spreading. It started in New York in 2006 and is thought to have come from Europe from people who do cave exploration. It’s a novel virus and North American bats don’t have the antibodies to fight this disease. Some bat species have declined by more than 90 percent in Eastern Canada! It’s unclear why the disease affects the bats so drastically, but one hypothesis is that it keeps bats awake when they’re meant to hibernate, making them burn too many calories, ultimately leading to starvation.

White-nose syndrome has yet to come to Alberta or British Columbia, but it’s only a matter of time before it affects our bat species.  “There are things we can do today to help anticipate the arrival of white-nose syndrome,” says Laura Trout, our senior wildlife biologist. “It’s about planning ahead and doing what we can to mitigate the negative effects we are expecting.”

West Fraser completes a risk assessment with any at-risk species and creates a species conservation strategy that is updated every two to five years. It includes:

  • Generating awareness about white-nose syndrome. We’ve trained our employees to identify roosting areas in and around mills, as well as known hibernacula (hibernation locations)
  • Offer community bat programs. In October groups survey buildings for bats, create bat boxes, and host bat talks with specialists
  • Remind drivers to look for “stowaway” bats in the lumber and to try to remove them.

“The biggest thing we can do to prepare for the virus is to document areas where bats are congregating. That way, when the disease hits, we can pass along that information to people administrating recovery programs,” explains Laura Trout.

Bats are vital to having a healthy forest ecosystem. A little brown bat can eat up to 1,200 insects in an hour. Depending on their needs, bats prefer different kinds of forests. They like open, uncluttered forests for foraging, while for roosting, they may prefer older trees near waterways. Our foresters keep their needs in mind when creating harvesting plans to ensure the bats have somewhere to live and eat.

By combining all of these elements, West Fraser looks out for our little flying friend to give them space to live in our forests and the best chance to survive any future bat pandemics!

Bats are no joke! What to-do guide:

  • Never touch a living or dead bat with your bare hands due to the risk of catching rabies (even though it is very rare). Don’t even touch what you may think is a dead bat—they could be in a “torpor” state and only seem dead. Currently, the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative recommends only handling wildlife if it’s imperative to bat conversation due to the risk of spreading COVID-19 to some bat species
  • Remove guano (bat feces) as it may cause a fungal disease called histoplasmosis—a lung disease caused by the inhalation of spores
  • If you see a bat injured or in distress, the best option is to leave it alone. In extreme cases, you may move it to a safer area while wearing gloves. If the bat is extremely injured, you can place it in a cardboard box with small air holes to bring to a rehabilitation centre. But the best option is to leave the bat where they are or contact a rehabilitation centre for them to collect.