Scottsbluff Girl Scout monitors local bat populations – Scottsbluff Star Herald


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Abby Harveson demonstrates how one of her bat monitoring devices works. The monitors plug into smart phones and pick up sounds of bat echolocation, which aren’t typically audible to humans. Different species of bats create different sounds, which help identify which types of bats live in the area being monitored.
Girl Scout and Scottsbluff High School student Abby Harveson has spent the last three years studying one of Halloween’s most iconic creatures: bats.
Harveson’s bat research was the focal point as she worked toward her Girl Scout Gold Award.
“It’s the highest award you can achieve in Girl Scouts,” said Harveson. “It requires at least 80 hours of work or service. You pick a problem or something in the community, and it has to be long-lasting.”
Although Harveson always knew that she wanted to earn her Gold Award, she had no idea what sort of project she would come up with. That changed one day on a visit to the Riverside Discovery Center.
“I was talking to Alex Mason at the zoo — she used to work in Florida with these big bats at this place called Lubee Bat Conservatory,” said Harveson.
Abby Harveson stands beside the bat house she built with Eric Weibe. Harveson had to learn a lot of different skills during her bat research, including some construction basics and how to write and present grants for funding.
Mason had an idea to pass out bat monitoring devices to members of the public in order to collect data on bats in the local area.
“I never really knew that much about bats,” admitted Harveson. “I was kind of interested in them because I like weird animals, but that got me into the project because she didn’t have time to do it herself.”
The project got Harveson involved in all kinds of different activities. She learned how to use tools in order to build a bat house, worked with the Girl Scouts committee to formulate a plan to carry out her research project, and even wrote and presented grants to fund the purchase of bat monitoring devices.
And of course, she had to go out at night and look for the bats herself.
“It’s honestly one of my favorite hobbies now,” said Harveson. “It’s kind of like bird watching, but at night.”
Harveson has refined her ability to locate bats over the course of the project, and a lot of her success comes from knowing where to look.
“The best places to find them are by a water source or by trees,” she said. “Somewhere where there’s a lot of bugs, because then they have something to eat.”
The monitors Harveson used helped her identify the different varieties of bats she encountered by registering their echolocation patterns, which she said are different for each species.
Harveson said there are 13 species of bats in our area, including big brown bats, silver-haired bats, hoary bats, and the endangered tricolored bat.
“There are a lot more in our area than you’d think there would be — you just have to pay attention,” she said.
Harveson passed out nine bat monitors to members of the community over the summer, and the data that those individuals collected was added to her own. As autumn sets in, most bat species will begin hibernation or migration, so the prime time for research is drawing to a close.
The next step for Harveson is leaving the monitors she purchased at various Girl Scout camps so that the girls who stay there can experience the process and continue her research.
“I’m going to make a camp program about bats to raise awareness,” said Harveson. “That’s how it will be long-lasting.”
Harveson said that although she does not have any specific plans, she hopes that the data she and her fellow Girl Scouts collect can be utilized by biologists to study local bat populations.
Working on the project has given Harveson a greater appreciation for bats and the ways they benefit the ecosystem. She said that they even make positive contributions to local agriculture by eating bugs that would be harmful to our crops.
According to Harveson, we even have bats to thank for many foods that we take for granted.
“In other parts of the world they’re pollinators just like bees,” said Harveson. “We wouldn’t have bananas, avocados, or agave without them because they pollinate those plants.”
Harveson also said that despite their bad reputation and prominent place in Halloween décor, we have nothing to fear from bats.
“I think they’re cute,” she said. “And I like to know that they’re there.”
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The world’s population of pollinators — bees, bats and butterflies — is declining due to climate change. Without them, fruits and vegetables wouldn’t be pollinated, which is a major problem for our food supply.
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Fletcher Halfaker is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at fletcher.halfaker@starherald.com. 
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Abby Harveson demonstrates how one of her bat monitoring devices works. The monitors plug into smart phones and pick up sounds of bat echolocation, which aren’t typically audible to humans. Different species of bats create different sounds, which help identify which types of bats live in the area being monitored.
Abby Harveson stands beside the bat house she built with Eric Weibe. Harveson had to learn a lot of different skills during her bat research, including some construction basics and how to write and present grants for funding.
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