The tiny Indiana Bat, which is the size of a small mouse and weighs the same as a door key, has a wingspan of 10.5 inches. It normally lives 14 years, summers in the woodlands and hibernates in the caves of southern Indiana, as well as in the forests of 20 other states.
Since 1967 the Indiana Bat has been on the federal list of endangered species.
Called Indiana Bats because they were identified in 1928 in the Hoosier state, they have one of their largest hibernacula (caves where they hibernate in winter) in Ray’s Cave in Greene County, located four miles northwest of Cincinnati, Ind., within the “action area” of I-69 Section 4.
Ray’s Cave is designated as a critical habitat of the Indiana Bat. The 2005 census of Indiana Bats showed 54,325 Indiana Bats hibernating there. The 2005 winter census showed the total world’s population of Indiana Bats as 457,374. Thus, approximately 12 percent of the world’s known population of Indiana Bats hibernates in this single critical habitat located within the proposed I-69 corridor.
“This little species is at such a critical point in its evolution on this planet,” says Sandra Tokarski, a board member of Citizens for Appropriate Rural Roads. “We’re having a tremendous impact on the flora and fauna in our environment. Without thinking, the activities we do to feed, clothe, and house ourselves contribute to the demise and extinction of other creatures. The added stress of the I-69 extension, along with the White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal infection that is lethal to bats, could push the bat into extinction.”
On the east coast, more than one million bats have died of WNS since 2007. In some hibernacula, the entire bat population has been lost to the disease. The last thing the Indiana Bat needs is a new-terrain highway to add to its stress as a species, Tokarski said.
"The added stress of the I-69 extension, along with the White Nose Syndrome (WNS), a fungal infection that is lethal to bats, could push the bat into extinction." - Sandra Tokarski, CARR
Like every other plant and animal, the Indiana Bat performs a function. The bat is vital to agriculture. It eats insects harmful to human food crops. It eats mosquitoes and therefore is a friend to humans. A study published in the April 2011 issue of the journal Science estimates that the loss of bats in North America could lead to agricultural losses of $3.7 billion per year.
According to scientists, bats are “bio-indicators.” Their ill health and endangerment are indicators of the threats to humans from the environmental disruptions from burning fossil fuels and deforestation. In that way, the bat is similar to the proverbial canary in the coal mine, as noted by the University of Bristol's professor Gareth Jones in the July 2009 edition of the journal Endangered Species Research.
Another endangered species is the symbol of America, the bald eagle. Much time, effort and funding have succeeded in de-classifying the bald eagle from “endangered” to “threatened” and finally delisted. The Indiana Bat needs the same protection given the bald eagle, , Tokarski said.
But the Indiana Department of Transportation stance towards the Indiana Bat violates the Endangered Species Act, which prohibits the “taking” of endangered species. Anticipated, and actual, I-69 project actions and effects include the alteration and destruction of karst features, increased toxic air pollution, timber-cutting, destruction and alteration of streams and riparian habitat, and noise disturbances of bat hibernacula and maternity colonies.
In its environmental study process, INDOT expended great quantities of taxpayer money to study impacts on the Indiana Bat. But the agency failed to choose the route/alternative that, according to its own studies, would have little or no impact on this endangered mammal.
“We cannot continue to indiscriminately wipe out species, like the Indiana Bat,” Tokarski says. "By doing so, we gravely damage ourselves and future generations."
Linda Greene can be reached at . Mary Ann Williams also contributed to this story. Sandra Tokarski can be reached at .