VILLA GROVE, Colo. - Colorado's largest colony of bats is gaining fame and protection through two cooperative agreements signed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Orient Land Trust.
The first agreement is a conservation easement that will protect 350 acres of wild mountain lands from future development. Included is the former Orient iron ore mine, the summer roosting site for an estimated 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats. During the months of July and August the bats make a massive outflight each evening at sunset from the mine site to feed on up to 6,000 pounds of insects.
The second agreement allows the public the opportunity to view this amazing sight. Orient Land Trust and the DOW worked in cooperation with the Saguache Field Office of the BLM-US Forest Service to ensure that the public can use BLM back roads to access a marked hiking trail to the bat roosting site. This agreement also gives the public, including hunters, the right to cross two of the Orient Land Trust properties to gain big game access to thousands of acres of adjoining land managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service.
"To be able to see the bats and other wildlife is a rare experience and these precious wildlife resources are now available for all to see, forever," said Suzanne Ewy, Executive Director of Orient Land Trust. "Orient Land Trust is honored to work with the Colorado Division of Wildlife."
Rick Basagoitia, Area Wildlife Manager for the Division agrees. "The bat outflight is one of the most unique wildlife spectacles in Colorado," Basagoitia said. "It's hard to appreciate it fully until you see it."
Orient Land Trust is a nonprofit land trust dedicated to the preservation of natural and biological resources, agricultural lands, wildlife habitat, open space, and historic and geologic features of the northern San Luis Valley. Orient Land Trust properties also include an historic hot springs resort, a restored riparian corridor and a working ranch, which are not affected by these agreements.
The Orient Mine operated from the mid-1800s until 1932 and was abandoned in 1938. The large bat population has occupied the mine for more than 30 years.
The interior of the bat cave has been closed to humans for the past two years because of the risk of introducing white-nosed syndrome. White-nose syndrome is an aggressive and poorly understood disease of bats that has decimated hibernating bat colonies in other parts of the country. While the Mexican free-tailed bat colony at the Orient Mine is migratory, as many as six other species of bats hibernate in the cavern. Preventing human activity inside the mine should help reduce the risk of introducing the disease while minimizing disturbance to the animals. Bat researchers are hopeful that the colony can be protected from this and similar diseases.
Colorado is home to 18 species of bats. The Division of Wildlife has extensive information about bats in Colorado available on its website:
Editor's note: a photo of the bat outflight at the Orient Mine is available for download at: http://dnr.state.co.us/ImageDBImages/23694.JPG
For more news about Division of Wildlife go to: http://wildlife.state.co.us/news/index.asp?DivisionID=3
For more information about Division of Wildlife go to: http://wildlife.state.co.us