Just in time for Halloween, the U.S. Forest Service will celebrate National Bat Week at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center this weekend.
Youth-oriented activities and crafts will take place upstairs in the visitor center from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Friday through Sunday, Oct. 26, 27 and 28.
Far from being a spooky, blood-sucking threat, bats do not pose any real danger to humans, said USFS employee and Bat Week organizer Ellie Kirkwood. They provide what scientists call “ecosystem services,” acting as gardeners and pollinators around Juneau, Kirkwood said.
“Bats are important to ecosystems and are not something to be afraid of … they’re not vampires,” she said.
Seven different bat species call Juneau home, Kirkwood said. In other part of their range, bats act as pollinators. But in Juneau, they play a different role in the ecosystem.
“They’re insectivores,” Kirkwood said. “So they’re eating pests that would otherwise damage agriculture or cause disease in the forest system.”
Their scat, called guano, is also a rich fertilizer, Kirkwood said.
Advocating for the furry flyers has become more important as bat populations have dwindled in the U.S. in recent years, Kirkwood said. A bat-targeting disease called White Nose Syndrome has spread from the East Coast into the Northwest, killing about 6 million little brown bats since 2006, Kirkwood said. It hasn’t yet been spotted in Juneau, but local scientists are keeping an eye out for signs of its spread.
For kids, Bat Week activities include arts and crafts for kids of all ages. Attendees can also participate in a scavenger hunt with prizes, Kirkwood said.
Experts will also be on hand to teach adults about managing their property to best accommodate bat habitat, Kirkwood said.
The Forest Service will also have its bat monitor equipment available for free check out. The monitor allows citizen scientists to listen to and record the ultrasound frequencies bats make. Those with the monitor are asked to gather data by driving on at least one of two different routes around town with the monitoring equipment attached to their car.
When spotting bats at the glacier recreation area, the best bet is to visit the Steep Creek Trail at sunrise or sunset. The USFS has installed an ultrasound recorded there.
“You want to be looking for bats at dusk or dawn, is your best bet,” Kirkwood said.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KevinGullufsen.