Paso Robles biologist elected to Bat Conservation Board
–Local wildlife biologist and Paso Robles resident Bill Haas, Director of the non-profit Central Coast Bat Survey, has been elected to the board of the Western Bat Working Group (WBWG). The WBWG Board of Directors is made up of representatives from 15 western U.S. states, three Canadian provinces, and two Canadian territories. The vision of the WBWG is to support conservation of bats throughout their existing range for the sake of biological diversity, ecological integrity, and for the benefit of present and future human populations including agricultural sustainability.
So what’s so Important about bats?
Most notably, insectivorous bat populations may be worth billions of dollars every year to North American agriculture. Estimates of their value to the U.S. economy, specifically linked to consumption of insect pest species, range from $4.6 to $23-billion annually. They are an important but (due to their nocturnal activity) frequently overlooked component of sustainable agriculture. Attracting the right species of bats can help get rid of insects that target grape vines, nut trees, and other crops and thus allow farmers to cut back (and save money) on pesticide use.
The diets of various bat species include a staggering array of moths (including the Grapevine Moth and the Codling Moth, a scourge on nut plantations), flies, beetles, froghoppers (spittlebugs), leafhoppers, planthoppers, grasshoppers, stinkbugs, and cicadas. Leafhoppers are known to transmit Pierce’s disease, a potentially devastating disease affecting wine grapes. Researchers have also documented that insects often avoid areas where bats are foraging.
A graduate of Harvard College, Haas has studied a wide array of vertebrate species in North, South, and Central America. In response to the local relevance of bats and the void in local bat studies, he was hired as director of the Central Coast Bat Survey, a long-term study of the distributions and ecological associations of bats on California’s Central Coast.
The study will be looking at where and when our bats occur and the relationships between bats and diverse agricultural practices in the region. The CCBS has a public presence as well, with programs for the public addressing why bats are important to all of us. The program includes education programs aimed at primary and secondary school students; bat box building events with local non-profit organizations (schools, Boys & Girls clubs, and other youth-based groups); citizen science-based data collection; and presentations to agricultural groups that focus on the importance of bats to sustainable agriculture.
If you want to find out more about our Central Coast Bats, this March (2018) Bill will be teaching a class entitled “Bats of California’s Central Coast” through the Cuesta College Community Education program. Classes will meet every Tuesday in March, from 6 until 8 p.m., which will include a field component to look for bats locally using state of the art bat monitoring technology while also providing opportunities for Citizen Scientists to get involved.