It’s Bat Week, and DSHS is working to preserve a robust ecosystem

Little brown bats are small bats, but medium-sized among the species of Myotis in Washington. (Courtesy Washington DFW)

Bat Week is upon us!

Bat Week is an international, annual celebration designed to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation.

For more than 20 years, the Department of Social and Health Services and the Department of Fish and Wildlife have teamed up to work to preserve a robust ecosystem of bat activity on the campus of Western State Hospital.

WDFW biologists and a small cadre of volunteer bat counters met this summer at Western to conduct the annual bat count. Local media even joined the team to experience the event.

Over the years, bats have taken residence in the attics (areas between the wood sub-roofing and the HVAC systems) of several buildings on the campus of Western.

Since 1998, Western staff and WDFW biologists have routinely added bat boxes in the attics to encourage bats to move into the boxes and out of the building infrastructure. The boxes measure 36 inches wide, 40 inches high and 7 inches deep, with three shelves inside for the bats to sleep.

There are boxes at several locations across the campus.

The bats living at Western are primarily little brown bats, or Myotis lucifugus. Counts in previous years have confirmed between 500 to 600 animals across the campus. They arrive in the spring, March to April, have their young, and then leave the last week of July or early August. These bats have formed a maternity colony at Western.

With the pending demolition of Building 21 — one of one of the main hospital buildings where these bats roost — to make way for Western’s new 350-bed forensic hospital, DSHS and WDFW are working together to ensure no bats are harmed and that they can re-establish following removal of the old building. Bat boxes at Building 21 will be relocated elsewhere on the Western campus to continue to provide a safe roost for the bats.

There are tentative plans to remove the roof of Building 21 in February prior to demolition in order to expose the nesting areas of the building to the scout bats, who return to Western every March to survey suitable nesting areas in anticipation of the return of the maternal colony later in the spring. DSHS Capital Programs officials and Clark Construction Group, the contractor for the new forensic hospital, will continue to meet with WDFW biologists to determine the least disruptive plan for the bats and how it pertains to the future of the project.