~ Submitted by Nicholas “Cole” Bennett
I am a member of Scout Troop 114, Bedford. One of the requirements to achieve the rank of Eagle is to plan, lead, and execute a service project that benefits your community. I chose to fund, build, and install six large bat houses in the conservation areas near water bodies around town.
When I began planning for the project in the workbook, one of the first questions was, “Why is it needed?”
When one thinks of bats they probably think of the bat as a scary and evil creature of the night. However, bats are very misunderstood and in fact, are vital to the health of our environment.
Bats around the world are essential for pest control, pollinating plants, and dispersing seeds. Although Massachusetts is home to only insectivorous bats. Bats save more than $3 billion in pesticides and crop damage across all agricultural production each year by eating those pesky insects that feed on plants and humans. By decreasing the number of pesticides, bats are saving the air, soil, water, and wildlife that pesticides contaminate. Not all bats eat insects though, many bats feed on nectar and pollinate all different types of plants, some of which you may even eat. Another food source for some bats is fruit. Fruit-eating bats account for up to 95% of seed dispersal in other regions of the world.
Recently Massachusetts has begun to experience a drastic mortality rate of bats. White-nose Syndrome, or WNS, is a condition where fungus grows on the nose, ears, and wings of the affected bats. The fungus grows best in cool temperatures and high humidity, similar to the conditions in caves which is unfortunately where many Massachusetts bats hibernate. When hibernating, bats tend to pack closely together for warmth, which increases the spread of the fungus. Before hibernating, bats eat lots of insects to build up enough fat to last them through the winter. Unfortunately, WNS increases the bat’s metabolism and makes the bats need to leave their hibernation site to find more food which leads to the bats getting stuck in freezing temperatures and starving.
The other threats to bats are almost all related to human activity. During the summer almost all bats live in trees and buildings, so when trees are cut down to create space for infrastructure many bats will lose their homes. Bats that create their homes in buildings are vulnerable to construction, repairs, and replacements. Massachusetts bats roost in older trees, often dead ones, because they need to find cavities in the trees to shelter in. Most people do not want a dead tree near their property, so the roosting areas for bats are reduced, leading them to try to shelter in houses. Putting up bat boxes on healthy trees can provide them safe shelter and prevent them from looking for shelter in a house.
Pesticides can weaken bats exposed to the chemicals and also make it hard for bats to find healthy food, causing many bats to go hungry.
Climate change causes a difference in hibernation timing which causes bats to go into hibernation late or exit from hibernation early. This means that bats will be out in the cold and insects may be unavailable, causing bats to starve. Intense storms, early and prolonged winters, droughts, and heat waves are also very dangerous for bats. In other regions of the world, bats are threatened by wildfires in hot and dry areas.
Bats are misunderstood animals due to all the myths about them. Some of the most popular myths are that bats attack humans and that bats will suck your blood. Bats are actually very scared of humans and the only time that they might come near you is to eat insects. Only three out of around 1,200 bat species are vampire bats and none of them live in the United States or Canada. Even then, these bats primarily feed on cattle and not humans. All of the misconceptions about bats lead to some people trying to hurt bats and their habitats.
My project sought to provide habitats for local bats by building six four-chambered bat houses with plenty of ventilation to minimize the spread of White-nose syndrome. We installed these houses around local bodies of water to give the bats plenty of insects to eat. These houses will hopefully increase the bat population and decrease the number of mosquitoes in the areas of the bat houses.
My project began by researching bats, bat houses, and good locations to install the houses. After gathering this information, I presented my idea to the Trails Committee and the Conservation Commission. After getting permission to install the houses I asked Michael Barbehenn of the Trails Committee to be my beneficiary.
To create a materials list and construct the houses, I followed the suggested bat house plan from the Massachusetts Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. With a completed materials list, I estimated the price to build the six bat houses.
My next step was fundraising, so I presented my project to the First Parish Bedford Social Responsibility Council and was given a generous grant that completely funded the project. My next step was to secure materials which I did with the help of Mike Bailey, the father of a past Scout, and the Burlington Lumber Company, who was able to give me some great discounts on the wood. After I secured the materials, I cut the wood to size using the woodshop, and the skill, of Bob Doud, a friend of the troop.
Once all the wood was cut I constructed a test house to make sure the wood was all correctly cut and that we could move on in the work process. I hosted many different volunteers in my driveway to stain all the wood over the course of three work sessions.
After letting the parts dry, my father and I fully built a bat house to use as an example for the volunteers that would help me construct the rest. Once all my volunteers arrived on the work day, I instructed them on safety and worked with them to build a test house to show them the process. The next step was taking a step back and observing the Scouts and high-school student volunteers to make sure they worked safely and correctly.
Once the bat houses themselves were built, we added tar and shingles, and then metal plates to keep the bat houses on the trees.
After the bat houses were ready to be put up, I contacted a troop adult and asked to borrow his ladder and then gathered two to three volunteers for each of the three dates that we would install the bat houses. On the first day of installing the houses, we had to find a way to get the bat house to the top of the ladder and stay there because my father could not hold it and drill it at the same time at the top of the ladder. The other volunteer thought of a pulley system that would allow him to pull a rope to hoist the bat house up while my father put in the screws. Once the bat house was in the air the rest was easy.
The bat houses are located at three separate bodies of water around Bedford, two at Fawn Lake, two at Buehler Ponds, and two at the Old Bedford Reservoir. All of the houses are on the northern side of the water and are facing south to maximize sunlight in the winter. They should reduce the populations of mosquitoes that breed in and congregate around the water.
This project would not have been possible without the help of Ben Bennett; Phillip Livingston; the First Parish Social Responsibility Committee; Mr. Bailey; Burlington Lumber; Bob; my brother; the youth volunteers—Aidan M., Anderson, Sebastian, Arnav, Kirk, and Aidan H.; the adults who advised me in Troop 114; and many others. A big thank-you to the F. W. Thompson Masonic lodge who sponsors the Troop as a whole, without whom there would be no Troop to get me to this point.
If you would like to help bats, feel free to read this article from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: https://bit.ly/3Ar3XVG
Editor’s Note: Do you have a child between the ages of 11 and 17 who may be interested in joining a super-fun community of kids? Scout Troop 114 is a Bedford Scout Troop, totally focused on going on Adventures, learning awesome Life Skills, an amazing Summer Camp, and most of all FUN! All are welcome to join an informal Q&A at 7 pm on Monday, September 12. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for Zoom details.