When you think of all of the endangered species that need protecting in North America, bats might not come to mind. Yet bats provide an enormous ecological benefit by helping to control insect populations, including many pests that affect our gardens and agriculture industry.
In recent years, bat populations have plummeted due to the spread of white-nose syndrome, caused by a fungus that lowers their immune systems, damages their wings and disrupts their hibernation. This often leads to bats starving during winter months, when there are already fewer insects for them to eat. According to Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, “a single little brown bat can consume up to 1,200 mosquito-sized insects in an hour and up to 3,000 insects in a single night.”
Nine species of bat can be found in New Jersey: big brown bat, little brown bat, eastern small-footed bat, tri-colored bat, eastern red bat, silver-haired bat, hoary bat, the federally threatened northern long-eared bat and the federally endangered Indiana bat.
So, what does a utility company have in common with bats? Trees.
PSE&G works with the state Division of Fish and Wildlife and the federal Fish & Wildlife Service on best management practices to minimize potential impacts to bats and their habitats.
We take great lengths to protect bats during vegetation maintenance activities along our distribution and transmission lines. In areas where bats may be present, we avoid conducting tree removal work during warmer months when they are most active.
When trees must be taken down during the active season, for safety and reliability reasons, PSE&G hires biologists to conduct special surveys before the removal to make sure bats aren’t using the tree for roosting or hibernating. Trees also are cut down in sections and carefully lowered to the ground so that we can inspect for bats under loose bark and in tree cavities.
But our love for these batty little creatures doesn’t stop there. We also help provide bat roosting habitats along our transmission corridors. Where a tree poses a risk of falling onto power lines, when safe, instead of completely removing the tree, our arborists will “top” and “girdle” it. This process removes the upper canopy of the tree and a ring of bark from the trunk. The tree will slowly die, providing vital bat habitat under the loose bark and cavities for a number of years.
The next time you see a bat in your backyard, don’t run to get the garlic. Instead, say thank you for the fine-looking garden.