BACKERS of a proposed provincial park at Fisher Bay think little brown bats could be the big hook that gets the province to designate the area as Manitoba’s newest wilderness getaway.
Fisher River Cree Nation Chief David Crate and a local bat expert said the area near Lake Winnipeg is home to huge colonies of little brown bats that hibernate in remote limestone caves and spend the summer gobbling up moths, beetles, and other insects by the kilo.
“There aren’t many of these sites around,” University of Winnipeg wildlife biologist Dr. Craig Willis said Wednesday. “When we find them, we have to protect them.”
The tiny bats number in the thousands right now—one cave is said to contain 25,000 of them—and appear to be in good health. But that could change quickly if the area is not protected by the province. The area under consideration is four times the size of Winnipeg.
“We think it would be a good draw,” Crate said of the bats. “It will be part of our marketing plan we’re currently developing for the area. The area will be set aside for protection. It will remain in its present state.”
Willis said the threat from logging—bats mate and hunt insects in the forest—and other human encroachment like mineral exploration puts the brown bat at risk.
“If we cut down forests we lose bats,” he said.
Crate added his community is still in talks with the province over where the Ochiwasahow (Fisher Bay) Provincial Park’s boundaries will be. Peguis First Nation to the south and Jackhead First Nation also have land in the area. A final decision is expected this fall.
“Everybody is on board,” Crate said. “What we’re proposing is to have a co-management board comprised of the three First Nations. We think the province is open to it.”
Public consultations on the proposed park will be held this spring, a spokesperson for Conservation Minister Bill Blaikie said.
UNIVERSITY of Winnipeg biologist Dr. Craig Willis wants you.
He and his team are hunting bats to get a better understanding of how the creatures move around the province.
If you have bats in your home or cottage or know the location of a bat colony in a building or forest in Manitoba or Northwestern Ontario, email Willis at [email protected] (using “Bat Blitz” in the subject line) or call (204) 786-9433.
For more info on The Manitoba Bat Blitz and bats in general go to ion.uwinnipeg.ca/~cwillis/cwbatblitz.htm
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 4, 2010 A2