In the last decade, several of Ontario’s bat species have experienced dramatic population declines. These declines have led to four of Ontario’s bat species being added to the Endangered Species list; half of the species of bats found in Muskoka are now Endangered.
The Muskoka Bat Collective was created in 2015 through the coming together of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, local schools, businesses, not-for-profit groups (including the Muskoka Watershed Council), and concerned citizens to promote the conservation of local bat species through public outreach and educational projects.
In the past year, the Muskoka Bat Collective has delivered interactive educational programming to local elementary and high school students to increase local knowledge and appreciation for bats in Muskoka. As part of the Muskoka Bat Collective’s education and outreach program, staff from RiverStone Environmental Solutions Inc. presented at the February 2017 Muskoka Watershed Council meeting about the bats of Muskoka and the outreach programs in the community.
The Muskoka Bat Collective has gotten off to a great start this year with the completion of snag counts and the deployment of acoustic monitoring stations at several sites around Bracebridge. With its educational outreach now underway, the local community has shown strong support for its mission to raise awareness about Muskoka’s Species at Risk bats and to learn more about their habitats here in our district. The project has been funded by the MNRF’s SAR Stewardship fund.
At the beginning of the year, ArcGIS was used to identify candidate habitat around Muskoka to conduct Snag/Cavity tree Surveys and Acoustic monitoring. Locations were selected based on factors such as quality of habitat proximity to Bracebridge, accessibility for staff and potential school trips, and ownership. The Bat Collective worked alongside the Muskoka Conservancy to review lands managed by the Conservancy as potential survey sites. After researching the best options, all sites chosen were parcels of crown land, easily accessible by vehicle and within 50 km of Bracebridge.
During the spring, before leaf-out, Collective staff conducted snag/cavity tree surveys across a total of eight (8) sites, following the protocol set out by MNRF for the purposes of identifying maternal roosting colonies of SAR bats.
Collective staff selected 3 low snag density locations and 3 high snag density locations within each Study Site in which to deploy acoustic monitoring stations. Analysis of the data collected by this monitoring equipment are still in process.
Muskoka Bat Collective staff have actively engaged Monck Public School in Bracebridge, delivering an introduction presentation to the entire student body. This initial presentation laid the foundation of bat ecology, addressing high level concepts of physiology, habitat, SAR species, White-nose fungus and the Collective’s field work to identify habitats for SAR bats within Muskoka. The presentation was very well received with the students and teachers alike commenting on how eager they were to participate in the project and learn more about SAR Bats in Muskoka.
Collective staff worked with teachers at Monck Public School to develop curriculum-based individual class programming covering more in-depth material pertaining to the SAR bats of Muskoka. Each program runs approximately 3 hours from start to finish. The focus of the educational programs is to engage students with a 3-stage approach consisting of a lesson/presentation, educational games based on the lesson, and in-class activity to increase comprehension of scientific concepts. These programs, including field trips to provide students with an opportunity to participate in onsite surveys for SAR bat habitat, were implemented at Monck Public School during the months of November and December.