For the bats: Environmental magnet school builds homes for misunderstood mammals
COOKHOUSE MEADOW – Thanks to fifth-graders who once thought the creatures yucky, hundreds of bats will have new places to hole up at Cookhouse Meadow.
The project to build eight bat houses capable of holding up to 300 of the winged mammals is sponsored by the Tahoe Area Sierra Club at a location undergoing an environmental renovation.
As snow fell at the 25-acre site off Highway 89 near the Big Meadow trail head, students from Bob Comlossy’s class at the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet School tromped excitedly in plastic snowshoes Friday afternoon.
“They didn’t have recess,” Comlossy explained.
Another reason for excitement was the fruition of a project that began in December. The project combined lessons such as math and research with an incentive to get first place in Disney’s statewide Jiminy Cricket Environmentality Challenge. The first-place winner of the competition for fifth-grade environmental lessons integrated around state educational standards earn a trip to Disneyland.
Presenters told the class how a lack of habitats decreased the number of bat species from 10 to seven, Comlossy said.
But homes for the bats were on the minds of the group Friday.
“They help make our plants grown and eat insects like mosquitos,” said student Cassara Naccarato.
Many students said it was the best project they ever did in school. They especially liked building the houses.
“It was just us. No adults helped us,” said student Melanie Grady. “It was cool using the screws and stuff.”
The goal Friday was to attach four boxes to trees along the rim of the meadow. They were placed at least 12 feet above the ground and facing the sun. Painted brown to absorb heat, there was talk to place “flashers,” such as foil, to prevent squirrels from using them as their own habitat.
Recorders to track the usage and temperature will be placed in each box, U.S. Forest Service Biologist Mollie Hurt said.
Although the boxes weren’t included in the plan for the meadow’s restoration, which included a $900,000 realignment of a creek, because of past cattle grazing and nearby road construction, Hurt said the additions were welcomed.
The class and others will frequently check in on the bat boxes.
When thriving, the meadow should be home to deer, birds, bats, fish and insects. It should also filter sediments before they enter Lake Tahoe.
Members of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club posed for a picture handing a $700 check to the fifth-grade class to cover building supplies as a tree was being pruned of its dead branches for another bat house.
“We’re delighted to provide funding for this,” said Kay Edwards, club membership chair. “It’s critical that our children get a first-hand understanding of how ecosystems work and how a seemingly unnatural thing like loss of bat habitat can negatively impact the natural order.”
Jim Eliot, a contractor and parent of one of the fifth-graders, donated building supplies and expertise. After awhile on the project, his son, Ben, thought bats’ faces had a resemblance to Chihuahuas.
“I didn’t know they could be so cute,” Ben Eliot said.
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