WNS Communications Projects to Target Western States

WNS Communications Projects to Target Western States

Some of the major goals in bat conservation are to increase detection of and limit the spread of White-nose Syndrome (WNS) in western states. The first confirmed report of WNS in Washington State was in March of 2016, 10 years after the first observations of the disease on the east coast. In addition, WNS was confirmed in California in the spring of 2018. Topic 1 of the 2017/2018 USFWS White-nose Syndrome Small Grants Program called for outreach, education programs, and tools for WNS communications products. Two WNS communications projects were recently completed through this grant program that focus on public education in Washington and California.

Hibernating Bats

The first project, “Enhancing public engagement to increase public awareness about WNS in Washington and the importance of bats to our environment and economy,” was developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The goal of the project was to produce outreach materials that would help detect the fungus that causes WNS early and help improve the response to WNS in Washington State by making sure the message is distributed. For example, the roosting ecology of many bat species in Washington state is poorly understood. Having access to winter roost data on bats in the state can help with early detection and monitoring of WNS. Additionally, there is little information on the location and distribution of maternity colonies for many bat species in the state, which makes it difficult to monitor population trends and track WNS during the spring months.

WNS social media campaign materials

WDFW developed several outreach products including rack cards, brochures, stickers and glow in the dark bracelets. The materials provide information about WNS and how to report bat observations and protect bats. Materials were distributed at community events, festivals, farmers’ markets and expos across the state. The products were also given to stakeholders and partners to use at outreach events. In addition, WDFW created bat education trunks for staff to use at community and school events to educate families and children about bat conservation; WDFW allows these trunks to be rented from their regional offices as well. The trunks include books, games, stickers, bat specimen and morphological displays, temporary tattoos, and a black-light fungus tracking activity.

Outreach by WDFW included a 4-week social media campaign that targeted the counties where WNS or the fungus has been confirmed. They also focused outreach efforts on the agricultural community, as they are more likely to encounter bat colonies and appreciate the importance of bats in agriculture.

As a result of the outreach efforts of WDFW through their USFWS WNS small grant, the message about bat conservation and WNS has reached many Washington state residents. Bat observation reports through the online reporting system have increased, as has the traffic on the WFDW bat webpages. WDFW has acquired a better understanding of the roosting ecology of many bat species and there is now enhanced WNS surveillance in areas of the state yet to be actively sampled.

The second 2018 WNS small grants communications project, “Community Battification Project” was recently completed by the Gold Country Bats Project. This project sought to educate the local community of the Sierra foothill region in California about bat conservation and WNS, help facilitate reporting of WNS sightings, and learn more about the local bat communities through acoustical monitoring.

The Gold Country Bats Project presented about bats and WNS throughout the Gold Country. This included presentations at local events, State Parks and conservation organizations. An evening Bat Symposium is scheduled for the Fall of 2019 at Columbia College.

The group created a website that allows the public to report bat concerns and sightings through a link to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The site includes links to the national WNS website and provides a one stop resource for information about local bats and educational programs and curriculum.

Gold Country Bats Project leader Lisa Murphy became a certified TOPS instructor (Teaching Opportunities for Partners in STEM). This certification allowed her to volunteer in over 23 classrooms and reach almost 400 students with the Edubat curriculum and bat conservation information. The Gold Country Bats Project was also able to incorporate acoustical monitoring projects into two courses at Columbia College. The surveying that results from the courses will contribute to a long-term bat monitoring project through the college.

Through this communication project, students and residents of Gold Country California have more information about bats as well as an online resource for reporting bat sightings and to help learn more about WNS in their region.

Photo Credit
U.S. Fish and WIldlife Service, Flickr
August 16, 2019