Dark, Dank, and Claustrophobic

USFWS biologists stand within Valentine Cave

This week we were lucky enough to meet up with Katrina Smith, the Natural Resource Specialist from Lava Beds National Monument. Only a 40 minute drive drive south into California from our headquarters in Klamath Falls, this was a scheduled office field trip — an opportunity to learn more about the bat populations of the area and the cultural heritage of Tule Lake National Monument (also historically known as Camp Tule Lake). For the respect of the history of Camp Tule Lake and the incarceration of thousands of Japanese citizens and non-citizens, I will write a separate post in the future that is dedicated to this dark time in history.

Jenny helps set up mist nets outside of Camp Tule Lake structures.

A few months back we had worked with Katrina at Tule Lake assisting in bat mist netting, so the opportunity to hear more about her work in Lava Beds was especially compelling. She explained that there are fifteen species of bats found within the monument, and that species monitoring included winter hibernacula surveys, spring mist-netting, and acoustic surveys. There are three stations set up in Lava Beds that use stationary acoustic monitoring to give occupancy model information for population counts of each species; Katrina mentioned wishing the Park Service had access to more, but informed us that each station costs upwards of $2,000 and requires active data analysis in the form of paid employees, of which the monument is lacking in during winter months especially. The three species unanimously found at each site included the silver haired (Lasionycteris noctivagans), yuma (myotis yumanensis), and pallid (antrozous pallidus) bats.

Technicians prepare the acoustic monitor, Sonobat.

Many of us had heard mention of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has affected and killed millions of hibernating bats throughout North America. Until this past year, the disease had not been recorded in any bats in California. However, this past spring in Plumas County (near Lassen Volcanic National Park) four bats have since tested positive for low levels of the fungus, marking the spread of the disease to this part of the country.

Katrina takes a swab sample of a myotis volans.
This particular bat had very healthy and intact wings.

The bats we mist netted for at Camp Tule Lake this April were not affected by white-nose syndrome, but biologists continue to monitor the populations living in the abandoned buildings left over from Japanese internment and incarceration during World War II. Much like the risk to specific bird species in the area, migratory bats also continue to face threats of habitat loss, wind energy, and disturbance of roosting sites by the public. Katrina mentioned the need and desire to better understand the patterns of movement in bats as they migrate, and encouraged us all to come volunteer at any point in the future!

Some of the spaces required crawling to get through.

Our day continued with two cave tours from one of the Park geologists took us deep into Valentine Cave and Scull Cave! We learned about the formation of lava tubes and a little more about the research being done regarding climate change and the unique environments within each cave system.

Each cave boasts complex bacterial communities
The cooling of lava creates different textures on the cave floors.
The entrance/exit of Skull Cave.
Panoramic view of Lava Beds National Monument

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