TTU Researchers Find Endangered Bat Colony in Nantahala National Forest

An endangered Indiana bat colony found in the Nantahala National Forest by a Tennessee Technological University professor has tapped into the country-wide concern over logging.

Michael Harvey, professor of biology at Tennessee Technological University and an expert on bats for the Southeast United States region, recently discovered the endangered Indiana bat in the Nantahala National Forest, which forced the U.S. Forest Service to stop logging in four North Carolina counties.

Harvey was contracted by the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service to search for the endangered bat in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina by the Nantahala National Forest. When a colony of Indiana bats was found living in a remote area of the national forest, the U.S. Forest Service halted all logging in Macon, Graham, Swain and Cherokee counties.

"A lot of people are using the terminology that this is the Spotted Owl of the east," Harvey said. "I wasn't really surprised (of the find), but it is exciting. This is the first time a reproductive female Indiana bat has been found south of Kentucky -- if you've waited 30 years for something like this like I have, it is exciting."

It was last week when Harvey and TTU graduate student Eric Britzke along with two Arkansas State University graduate students were in North Carolina "netting" bats -- capturing them in mist nets made of very fine nylon threads in order to see what kind and how many there were in certain regions.

During the netting, a female Indiana bat and another small male, assumed to be her baby, were captured in North Carolina, within the boundaries of the Nantahala National Forest. Harvey wasn't on site when the female bat was netted but received a phone call from an excited Britzke.

"He called me and asked if I was sitting down," Harvey recalled. "Eric really should get the credit."

The students fitted the female with a radio transmitter, hoping she would lead them to a colony of more bats.

But, the receiver wasn't working. So Harvey called some bat researchers in Arkansas who mailed him overnight another receiver.

"And with it we found the colony and watched about 28 bats fly out of a tree that night," Harvey explained. "And that's when everything broke loose Ñ we had caught them in the national forest."

Indiana bats usually migrate and colonize in dead or loose bark trees. This particular colony of Indiana bats was found roosting in a dead hemlock tree.

So, the U.S. Forest Service immediately stopped all logging and is currently netting bats where logging was taking place to determine whether or not the Indiana bat is actually living in these specific areas.

The moratorium on logging has angered many residents and loggers, who are now temporarily out of work, and a protest was held last week in Asheville, N.C., in front of the U.S. Forest Service's office with loggers picketing the agency's decision to stop logging because of a bat.

Environmentalists are now planning to file a lawsuit to stop logging in a wider area than just the four North Carolina counties, which disturbs Harvey somewhat.

"Some of these people are simply jumping on the 'bat' wagon when their real agenda is to stop the cutting down of trees," he said. "And I hate to see them using the Indiana bat as an excuse for this."