Written by Debby de Carlo /Photo by Peter Pearsall

James Lane considered making bat houses for Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Malheur Field Station when he was a junior at Catlin Gable School in Portland. “I’m interested in conservation and my stepfather, Scott Bowler, had introduced me to Malheur. It seemed a good way to combine my interests into a school project.”

Making bat houses is more complicated than one might think. In the end, Lane and his classmates made bird houses while they were at Malheur Field Station in the spring of 2019. Lane couldn’t forget the bat houses or their importance to the Refuge and the Field Station.

“There are 15 species of bats in Oregon,” according to Alexa Martinez, wildlife biologist for the Refuge. “Twelve of them are found at Malheur.” And, so far at least, those 12 species are free of white nose syndrome, a fungus decimating bat populations in some parts of the country.

“The bats at Malheur eat insects, including mosquitoes,” Martinez explained. “And they are a food source to hawks, owls, and some snakes. Weasels and raccoons will climb trees to get them.” They nest inside the bark of trees or under the eaves of buildings. Their droppings, which look like what mice or rats might leave, makes a great fertilizer.

Because the bats like tight spaces when they’re not out eating insects, bat houses have several layers. “You can only make 2 bat houses out of a sheet of plywood,” noted Bowler.

So, over the summer, James, using his father’s workshop, built 24 bat houses. That is a lot of plywood. Bowler, who now lives in Sisters, had to wait until early November before he could join James and deliver the bat houses. They left 14 with Doug Roberts at the Field Station and took ten to Martinez at the Refuge.

Martinez will is working with Refuge maintenance staff, but her plan is to have some installed at Headquarters, some at Buena Vista and some at Double O. The Friends of Malheur Executive Director, Janelle Wicks, and project committee co-chair Alice Elshoff are planning a Bat Box Installation work party for mid-March 2020.

Lane, meanwhile, has plans to go much further east. Next fall he will pursue his studies at Colby College in Maine.