A night at the bat house: After a long battle against bats, the Rehders help preserve them

Bat house
Using headlamps, bat researchers check the bat traps on the front porch of the Rehder Ranch.
Photo by Scott Franz

Steamboat Springs — Helen and Henry Rehder were always at war with bats.

To deter the animals from making themselves comfortable on their family ranch in Pleasant Valley, the Rehders set up a defensive perimeter of steel wool, tin foil and ultrasonic devices on their home.

When the bats continued to win, the couple turned to extreme measures.

A few minutes before the bats start to stir

According to Helen, Henry would attach a hose to the exhaust pipe of his car and try to exterminate the bats by pumping fumes into the attic.

In the end, though, the bats would win.

The Rehders fought hard to remove the bats, but they ultimately would end up ensuring the animals would forever have a place on their rustic ranch after they passed away.

By bequeathing the property to the Yampa Valley Land Trust to be a nature preserve, the Rehders also would ensure bat researchers here in Colorado had an ideal place to study the animals with the hope of learning how to protect them from the spread of a deadly fungus.

“Helen wanted to very much encourage research and education projects, but I don’t think she ever thought it would be related to bats,” Land Trust Executive Director Susan Dorsey said. “I’m sure she would be very surprised to learn this research would be related to bats because they were always battling them.”

Today, bats are becoming less of a nuisance at the ranch and more of an important attraction.

Yampatika and Colorado Parks and Wildlife partnered last year to host an educational event at the ranch about bats.

Many people stayed after dark to help count how many bats flew out of the buildings.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also has conducted a bat count.

This summer, researchers with the Colorado Natural Heritage Program arrived at the ranch to begin studying the resident bats.

Their work comes as the Land Trust and other partners are focusing their efforts on finding the bats a better home on the property so that restoration work can commence on the historic ranch buildings.

With grant funding from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Land Trust put in a new bat house last year, and it already has signs of activity.

“I’m thrilled,” Dorsey said when asked what it’s like to have stewardship of a historic property that has become a sort of ground zero for new bat research. “This is exactly what we should be doing, and it’s only the beginning. I think of the possibilities. I hope the data and the research at the Rehder Ranch will roll into a national research project that will help bats across the country.”

By Scott Franz