Development could threaten Central Texas bats

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Associated Press

Posted on December 29, 2013 at 1:32 PM

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A proposed subdivision near a giant bat cave in Central Texas has biologists and bat enthusiasts worried about the possibility of harmful effects on the animals.

Gary McCracken, a board member of the Austin-based Bat Conservation International, tells the Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/1jTN0Zk ) the proposed 1,500-acre, 3,000-plus-home development is likely to disrupt — and possibly kill — some of the mostly female Mexican free-tailed bats from Comal County's Bracken Cave Preserve. The cave boasts the world's largest maternal bat colony.

"It looks like a really significant encroachment," said McCracken, the head of the ecology and evolutionary biology department at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "It is a very serious threat."

A ripple effect could mean fewer mates for tens of millions other bats, including the mostly male population that dwells under the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin.

McCracken said that scientists have seen several examples of damage to bat colonies caused by human encroachment.

"Caves that had millions of bats are now empty, or gone," McCracken told the newspaper. "Did the bats die or move? Probably some of both."

McCracken said an influx of people to the area near the Comal County cave, about 20 miles from San Antonio, would cause many of the bats to abandon their cave, reducing or eliminating the steady stream of millions of bats that fly every night out of their summer home.

The preserve, which requires an authorized guide to enter the land, sits on 700 brush country acres. The proposed development, dubbed "Crescent Hills," would be built less than a mile from the cave, said James Jonas, a lawyer representing clients affiliated with Bat Conservation International.

The land slated for development is owned by a San Antonio developer but is under contract to be sold to Dallas-based Stratford Land, which is reaching the end of the permitting process before construction can begin.

Stratford spokeswoman Cynthia Pharr Lee said Stratford cares about bats and the environment. She said company officials remain open to discussions about what to do with the land, hoping that "a mutually acceptable plan can be agreed upon that will enable the peaceful co-existence of the bat colony and new residential development."

Mike Ryan, an animal behaviorist with the department of integrative biology at the University of Texas, said other repercussions from a decline in Texas' bat population could include farmland seeing more insects since bats consume the pests.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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