JONESVILLE, Mich. - Yes, Jonesville village officials have hired their bat man, and no, Robin will not be coming along to help.
Village Manager Michael Mitchell has heard that and other jokes since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told him that a study must be undertaken to determine if the Indiana bat is present at the site where the village wants to renovate and add on to its wastewater treatment plant.
The ironic thing is that the tiny bat, which is on the federal endangered species list, hasn't been seen in the area for almost 20 years.
“On one hand, it's humorous, but on the other, it's getting expensive,'' Mr. Mitchell said.
The village spent $600 in the fall to hire Allen Kurta, an Eastern Michigan University biology professor, to determine if the bat is present near the plant site along the St. Joseph River. He determined that it isn't, but that wasn't good enough for wildlife officials, who now want a mist netting study to be conducted for $2,200.
The wildlife service has to give its approval before the village can get a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development office.
The construction project is expected to cost between $5.5 million and $6 million.
Mr. Kurta, who was the last person to find an Indiana bat in the area, will deploy nets that can be as much as 60 feet wide and 30 feet high near the river. If he catches an Indiana bat, he will put a transmitter in it to see if it has made a home in a tree near the plant.
“We've already spent $600, and now we're approaching $3,000 looking for the elusive Indiana bat,'' Mr. Mitchell said.
During the winter, the Indiana bat, which is no more than 7 grams, hibernates in Kentucky, southern Indiana, and Missouri. In the springtime, Mr. Kurta said, it flies north into southern Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois.
A couple of weeks ago, Mr. Kurta found the species along the River Raisin between Tecumseh and Adrian in Lenawee County.
“There are a fair number of them, but its population has been declining steadily since 1967. That's quite disturbing,'' he said. “If we can figure out the reason for the decline, we still have time to correct the problem and save that species.''
The habitat along the St. Joseph River is favorable for bats because of the mature forest there, which means a lot of canopy and large, dead trees, which the Indiana bat will use as a home.
“If they are absent, then there's no problem,'' the biology professor said. “If they are present, the village will have to do a few things to avoid harming the animals. This is not a project that would probably be stopped because of the presence of the bat.''
He said some steps might include cutting down trees in the winter, when the bats are not in the area, or replanting trees to provide a habitat for the bat.
The study will be done within the next couple of weeks.
“Hopefully, he'll write a report that will close out this whole thing,'' Mr. Mitchell said. “I hope this is the final study on the Indiana bat.''