Rob Mies hopes to dispel fears of winged mammals
By Nicole Inglis, Explore Steamboat
Saturday, October 30, 2010
Steamboat Springs — A little more than a month ago at the historic Rehder Ranch, volunteers and Yampa Valley Land Trust officials counted more than 300 bats hanging upside-down from the rafters of the almost century-old structures.
But instead of fear or disgust, Land Trust executive director Susan Dorsey felt pride and respect for the flying mammals.
“Bats are fabulous,” Dorsey said. “We love the bats, we just want to give them a home of their own.”
As the Land Trust works toward historical restoration of the ranch structures, it’ll heavily weigh conservation of the diverse and largely beneficial bats that make their home there.
But they’re not the only ones challenging the traditional eerie stigma of bats.
In the spirit of Halloween, the Land Trust and the U.S. Forest Service have sponsored a Sunday appearance by internationally renowned bat conservation expert Rob Mies, who has appeared on such TV shows as Late Night with Conan O’Brien, the Today Show and the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
The event, in partnership with Bud Werner Memorial Library, Yampatika and The Nature Conservancy, begins at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Library Hall.
Mies told the Steamboat Today on Friday that the Halloween appearance is an opportunity for festive entertainment with educational value.
“A lot of times parents are looking for something less scary to do,” Mies said. “But we’re more concerned about the kids growing up being fearful of these kinds of things. We shouldn’t be fearful of nighttime.”
Mies will bring with him four live bats, representing populations from all corners of the world.
He’ll have a big brown bat, a species indigenous to Colorado, as well as a straw-colored flying fox from Africa and the endangered golden bat.
But the most gasp-inducing moment, Mies said, is when he introduces crowds to the Malaysian gigantic flying fox bat that has a 6-foot wingspan.
In addition to introducing four furry, winged friends, Mies will discuss concepts of bat conservation, such as putting up bat houses in backyards to counter the destruction of their natural habitats.
But he has to explain why it’s important to save one of the most diverse and beneficial mammals.
There are 4,200 species of mammals on Earth, and almost 25 percent of those species are different kinds of bats. In Colorado, about 18 species of bats flutter through the dusk skies, feeding on between 2,000 and 6,000 insects per night.
Mies said the existence of bats is extremely important to biodiversity. They act as population control for agricultural pests such as moths and beetles, as well as pollinate unique and endangered plant species, including the agave plant.
Unfortunately, a new fungus has sprung up in the northeast that is threatening bat populations. Called White-nose Syndrome, the affliction has killed one million bats in just three years.
Mies emphasized the importance of preventing the spread of the disease as well as general awareness of bat benefits and the elimination of skepticism and fear.
Bats in the Yampa Valley
At the Organization for Bat Conservation in Michigan, which
Mies founded and directs, Apple Snider, a Colorado State University graduate and U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist, saw how people’s conception of bats can be changed by simply encountering them.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about bats, and we grow up thinking about them associated with a spooky time,” Snider said. “They’re active at night, so we can’t always see what they’re doing.”
Now based in the Yampa Valley, Snider said bat issues include humane bat mitigation from houses, awareness and conservation efforts.
She hopes awareness projects such as Mies’ appearance will stop people from using chemicals to kill bats in their house or swatting at them with tennis rackets.
In their own way, Snider, Mies and Dorsey have found the allure of the often-misunderstood winged mammals, and they each hope to share that enthusiasm with the rest of the community.
“They’re found all over the world, people are terrified of them, and they’re incredibly beneficial,” Mies said. “You add those three things together, and I can’t stop. I literally can’t stop, it’s so fascinating.”