Tag Archives: WVDNR

She is Bat Woman

Emily Peters is an Appalachian Forest Heritage Area AmeriCorps member at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s West Virginia Field Office. Now in her second year of Americorps service, Peters continues to pursue one of her greatest life passions: connecting people to the environment through education. Throughout her career, Peters says she has had “incredible experiences of self-justification”, which demonstrate she is doing exactly what she is meant to do. Peters’ most recent experience was a two day celebration about one of nature’s most unique mammals: BATS.

And now, I turn this story over to Emily Peters, the real Bat Woman…

Peters (left) getting ready for day two of Bat Week - building bat boxes - with fellow AmeriCorps members, Lauren Merrill (middle) and Maddy Ball (right). Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

Peters (left) getting ready for day two of Bat Week – building bat boxes – with fellow AmeriCorps members, Lauren Merrill (middle) and Maddy Ball (right). Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

This journey starts with a Bat Week event I planned last year. I will be honest: it was not my best work. I would like to say that I had exactly 7 days to coordinate the event, which is not an excuse but definitely played a role in the turnout. The outcome of this year’s event was partially influenced by some unasked-for critique I received from a local business owner in Elkins. She blatantly presented her opinion of the previous year, using words like “not fun,” “poorly advertised,” “bad” and “stupid.”

Despite the raging animal inside of me sharpening its claws, I kept my composure and put my professional face on. I thanked her for her input and explained that we did the best we could in the time that was provided. In reality, I had never been so insulted in my whole life. Did she not understand all the stress I went through to put that event together? Did she not understand that I was new and didn’t know Bat Week even existed until 7 days before!? I appreciate constructive criticism, but what she said was just plain mean. Needless to say, I took it very personally. So I used that negative energy to fuel my ambition for this year’s event.

When plans began to unfold for Bat Week 2015, I made a promise to myself that it would not get the same terrible review. I kept hearing this lady’s snide comments in my head and wanted to prove her wrong… SO wrong. In hindsight, I should thank her for pushing me to make the event bigger and better (but I’m stubborn and not going to). I put every ounce of my energy into planning the event this year and went above and beyond what any sane person planning a public event on their own would do.

Participants learn about the fascinating world of bats during the first day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters

Participants learn about the fascinating world of bats during the first day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters

The event featured 8 different interactive activities, each at different stations, with their own educational messages about bats and caves. I extended the event to last 2 days- ending with bat box building. The list of tasks I needed to complete never ended- it was filled with creating flyers, finding a venue, gathering all the supplies and organizing them into each station, distributing the flyers to every single student in all the elementary schools in the county, purchasing bat box kits, gathering tools and safety gear, advertising in general, and coordinating volunteers. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel overwhelmed at any point during the event planning.If you were to read my thoughts during the month I planned Bat Week, it would most likely be something like, “batsbatsbatsbatsbatsbats.” It was stressful, exhausting, my anxiety levels doubled, and I was not sleeping at night (was I becoming a bat!?). My point is: it was a lot of hard work.

Yet every second of it was absolutely worth it.

My Bat Week event was a HUGE success!! Over 200 visitors participated in the event throughout the 2 evenings! In case you don’t understand how small the town of Elkins is, trust me: that is a lot of people! Parents thanked me for my efforts, and children couldn’t wait to show off all of the new bat knowledge they had learned. On the second day, one mother stopped me on the sidewalk as I unloaded my ‘bat-mobile’, saying “Thank you so much for putting this bat event together, it’s wonderful. My kids loved it. They had a lot of fun last night and we will be coming back to build a bat box tonight.” I was ecstatic!

Families learned about the fascinating world of bats during the first day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

Families go batty for bat boxes on the second day of Bat Week in Elkins, W.Va. Credit: Emily Peters/AmeriCorps

I have a lot of people to thank for supporting me in my Bat Week ambitions. I have unlimited appreciation for all of my volunteers, who came from various backgrounds and organizations such as The Forest Service, WVDNR, Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and AFHA AmeriCorps. The event would not have run without them! I also thank my co-workers for their support and encouragement throughout the planning process (as if they needed another reason to be amazing).

I really believe it’s one of life’s greatest feelings when you put all your energy into planning an event and it turns out incredibly successful. I know I did something right when both the kids and the parents can take value in their experience and walk away smiling. That outcome makes all the stress and anxiety melt away. It is why I work so hard doing something I truly love.

Peters may not don a cape (in public) or drive the Batmobile, but she owns her role as “Bat Woman” when it comes to educating the public about one of nature’s most misunderstood creatures.  Tune in tomorrow to read more about Peters’ batty adventures…

Endangered juvenile pink mucket pearlymussels from 2014. This freshwater mussel is found in just two of the states in our Northeast Region - West Virginia and Virginia. Credit: USFWS

Returning freshwater mussels to Central Appalachia

Endangered juvenile pink mucket pearlymussels from 2014. This freshwater mussel is found in just two of the states in our Northeast Region - West Virginia and Virginia. Credit: USFWS

Endangered juvenile pink mucket pearlymussels tagged and ready for release in the Ohio River! This freshwater mussel is found in just two of the states in our Northeast Region – West Virginia and Virginia. Photo courtesy of Janet Clayton, WVDNR

You're hearing from Anne Post, chief librarian stationed at the National Conservation Training Center. She is passionate about photography and film, and loves any possible creative opportunity that presents itself. She is really good at bringing order to chaos, i.e., her library hat.

This post is coming from Anne Post, chief librarian duty stationed at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, WV. She is passionate about photography and film, and loves any possible creative opportunity that presents itself. 

Refuge biologist Patty Morrison of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge (WV, PA, KY) and other endangered freshwater mussel proponents are celebrating remarkable landscape-level recovery efforts made possible by exemplary partnership between our agency, state, university and private partners. The details of this steady recovery effort are described in the recently published 2014 permit report.

Moving the needle on endangered mussel recovery takes many years and the cooperation of numerous partners,” Patty said. “Each year we mark progress forward in incremental steps through re-introductions, propagation of juvenile mussels in captivity, stocking and monitoring.”

Work to propagate, collect, stock and monitor these endangered mussels continues in the face of getting clobbered by invasive zebra mussels species that crowd out and destroy native mussel populations. Check it out:

  • Purple cat’s paw pearly mussel:  the second ever successful captive propagation of juvenile purple cat’s paw pearly mussel, and continued survival and growth of the 2013 juveniles in captivity;
  • Clubshell mussels:  the stocking of additional adult clubshell mussels to the mainstream Ohio River and Middle Island Creek in West Virginia, and continued growth of juveniles;
  • Pink mucket pearly mussels:  the second ever stocking of captive-raised juvenile pink muckets to the mainstem Ohio River in West Virginia, and successful detection of last year’s stocked juveniles; and
  • Sheepnose mussel:  the first ever successful transformation of juvenile sheepnose in cell culture media (without using a fish host).
Tagged fanshell freshwater mussel and snail friend at the bottom of the Ohio River. Photo courtesy of Janet Clayton, WVDNR

Tagged fanshell freshwater mussel and snail friend at the bottom of the Ohio River. Photo courtesy of Janet Clayton, WVDNR

Successful restoration of some endangered mussel populations is thanks to some pretty sensational multi-regional, multi-program cooperation across our agency and stellar conservation partnerships with the WV Department of Natural Resources, Ohio State University, Tennessee Tech University, the Columbus Zoo Freshwater Mussel Conservation and Research CenterIllinois Department of Natural ResourcesIllinois Natural History Survey, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat CommissionKY Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources and other organizations.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service diver Doug Canfield splashes into the water in preparation for mussel work! Credit: USFWS

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service diver Doug Canfield splashes into the water in preparation for mussel work! Credit: USFWS

As Janet Clayton, wildlife diversity biologist and mussel project leader for the West Virginia DNR chimed in to say: “West Virginia has nine federally endangered mussel species. Some of the populations are listed within the recovery plans requiring restoration for de-listing. West Virginia is proud to be working with our federal and state partners in the restoration efforts for these species as it is only through the efforts of many that recovery can be accomplished.”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service diver Matt Patterson prepares to place tagged juvenile northern riffleshell mussels in the Allegheny River at East Brady. The young riffleshells — an endangered species — were bred in a fish hatchery from adult stock that biologists rescued before a bridge demolition. Photo courtesy of Janet Butler, WVDNR

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service diver Matt Patterson prepares to place tagged juvenile northern riffleshell mussels in the Allegheny River at East Brady. The young riffleshells — an endangered species — were bred in a fish hatchery from adult stock that biologists rescued before a bridge demolition. Credit: USFWS

And…let’s not forget the divers from the our agency and WV DNR that helped restock the Ohio River, as well as other teams that collected clubshells from the Allegheny River as part of that very cool recovery project. Snorkels affixed, they dove and stocked the rivers to help guarantee the slow but steady climb to recovery.

Read more about these efforts:

Flying high: Scientists work to protect a flying squirrel and its red spruce home

Today’s story comes from The Nature Conservancy Magazine. Author Madeline Bodin shares the recovery story of the West Virginia northern flying squirrel and the ongoing work to monitor the species and restore its red spruce home. Our agency removed the flying squirrel from the endangered species list in March 2013. In 1985, only 10 squirrels were captured in four separate areas of its range. Now, federal and state biologists have captured more than 1,100 squirrels at over 100 sites, and believe that this subspecies no longer faces the threat of extinction.

Researcher Corinne Diggins sets traps in a variety of spruce and hardwood locations to account for the West Virginia northern flying squirrel’s foraging and denning habits. © Patrick Cavan Brown for The Nature Conservancy.

Scientists measured, weighed and put a radio collar on this West Virginia northern flying squirrel before releasing it into the wild. © Patrick Cavan Brown for The Nature Conservancy.

Craig Stihler holds the squirming rodent in his gloved hands. “It’s a biter,” warns the bespectacled biologist as he handles the animal using only calm, deliberate movements. With its impossibly large eyes built for seeing in the dark, the West Virginia northern flying squirrel looks and acts like an agitated Muppet.

And rightfully so: A few minutes ago, this young female specimen was napping in one of hundreds of nest boxes that Stihler and other researchers installed throughout the Monongahela National Forest. But now she’s being weighed, ear-tagged and measured by a small group of scientists.

Virginia Tech doctoral student Corinne Diggins prepares live traps to capture and study West Virginia northern flying squirrels. © Patrick Cavan Brown for The Nature Conservancy

Virginia Tech doctoral student Corinne Diggins prepares live traps to capture and study West Virginia northern flying squirrels. © Patrick Cavan Brown for The Nature Conservancy

One of them—Virginia Tech doctoral student Corinne Diggins—blows in the squirrel’s face, trying to stop it from writhing in Stihler’s hand long enough for her to slip a radio collar around its neck. The animal finally holds still after a Forest Service technician gamely offers the finger of his glove for the squirrel to gnaw on, which allows Diggins to crimp the collar in place. Once she is done, Stihler releases the squirrel onto a tree trunk. It darts up into the canopy, then freezes in place, waiting for the group to leave.

A biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Stihler has held more West Virginia northern flying squirrels than just about anyone. He has been studying the animals since 1985, when this subspecies of the northern flying squirrel was listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. At the time, scientists could find the squirrel at only a handful of sites in West Virginia, and its only known habitat had been reduced to a small fraction of its historical footprint in the area. To make things worse, not much was known about the animal—including what it ate, where it slept and how it differed from its more common cousin, the northern flying squirrel, which ranges across North America. With so few of the feisty, nocturnal animals to study, figuring out why the squirrel had declined—let alone how to save it—was going to require some sleuthing.

Researchers Corinne Diggins and Craig Stihler attach a radio collar to a West Virginia northern flying squirrel after measuring and weighing it. © Patrick Cavan Brown for The Nature Conservancy.

Researchers Corinne Diggins and Craig Stihler attach a radio collar to a West Virginia northern flying squirrel after measuring and weighing it. © Patrick Cavan Brown for The Nature Conservancy.

Only three decades later, the outlook for the flying squirrel’s survival has changed dramatically. The species is no longer endangered and was delisted in 2013—a remarkable feat, given how few squirrels remained and how little was known about them. The story of the squirrel’s turnaround isn’t about saving just one species; it’s the story of the restoration of an entire landscape that had become unbalanced by more than a century of logging and mining.

The West Virginia northern flying squirrel is a rare sight in the wild. Compared with the typical gray squirrel you might see in your yard, the flying squirrel is smaller, lighter, active at night and can soar through the air. It uses folds of skin, called patagia, that stretch between its front and hind legs to glide from tree to tree. It is so adept with these “wings” that it can execute 180-degree turns in midair.

Before the 1980s, scientists had observed this high-flying rodent scratching out a meager living eating tree buds, lichens and mushrooms. But it wasn’t until the subspecies was listed as endangered that researchers uncovered the mainstay of its diet: truffles—or a close approximation from the genus Elaphomyces. These truffle-like fungi grow below ground, entwined in the roots of trees commonly found in the high-elevation red spruce forests of central Appalachia’s Allegheny Mountains. Further investigation found that the trees, fungi and squirrels were mutually dependent: The fungi and the trees exchange nutrients, and the squirrels eat the fungi and spread their spores to new areas.

“You can’t underestimate the importance of the relationship between the forest, the fungi and the squirrel,” says Donna Mitchell, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources biologist who conducted research on the subspecies’ diet—work that offered major clues toward understanding the animal’s decline. “I’m not sure what you would do without one of those components.”

Virginia Tech doctoral student Corinne Diggins prepares live traps to capture and study West Virginia northern flying squirrels. © Patrick Cavan Brown for The Nature Conservancy

Researcher Corinne Diggins sets traps in a variety of spruce and hardwood locations to account for the West Virginia northern flying squirrel’s foraging and denning habits. © Patrick Cavan Brown for The Nature Conservancy.

A second piece of the puzzle came into place when the U.S. Geological Survey published a report finding that the Allegheny Mountains’ spruce forests were among the most endangered ecosystems in the United States. The forests had been reduced to just 10 percent of their former range.

“This was a spruce-driven ecosystem, with a million acres of spruce-influenced forest,” says Shane Jones, a biologist with the Monongahela National Forest, looking out at a mountainous horizon that today shows only small patches of red spruce. “Then in the 1800s, mass timber extraction arrived with the railroad logging era.” Not only were the trees cut down, but sparks from the trains’ engines ignited fires in the hillsides, which were littered with slash from timber cutting. Having thin bark, a shallow root system and small seeds that burn easily, the red spruce is poorly adapted to fires. Eventually the hardwood trees, such as beech, maple and oak, grew back; the spruces didn’t.

For most of the past century, that situation suited the Forest Service. Maples, cherries and oaks were more valuable as timber. But as the flying squirrel mobilized local conservation groups—including The Nature Conservancy—during the 1980s and ’90s, they found that the red spruce forest held this ecosystem together. The trees shaded trout streams, provided habitat for an endangered salamander and supported the West Virginia northern flying squirrel.

The first step in restoring the squirrel population, then, was securing its remaining habitat: Logging was halted in areas of the national forest that could support the squirrels. The second was developing and implementing a restoration plan for the red spruce forest.

Since the early 1990s, the Conservancy has helped the Forest Service protect more than 65,800 acres of scattered parcels within national forest boundaries. The largest deal occurred in 2000, when the Conservancy coordinated the purchase of mineral rights for 57,300 acres on the flanks of Cheat Mountain, situated on the forest’s western edge. The Forest Service already owned the surface of the land, but a mining company owned the mineral rights, which meant it could tear up the forest to get to the coal. Once secured, the mineral rights were transferred to the Forest Service. … Finish reading this story at The Nature Conservancy Magazine!