Bat Attack! Why Saving Humanity Means Saving Mexican Free-Tailed Bats

humanity's life-support systems

“By [2050], it is extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence, will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent, and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future”Maintaining Humanity’s Life Support Systems in the 21st Century

So it seems the threat to the human species has nothing to do with our failure to frack-n-pump oil and gas out of the ground quickly enough. It’s not driven by the rising costs of plastic crap at the box stores equated in some circles to a quality of life. It’s not to be blamed on a sand dunes lizard or blind salamanders. According to an international consortium of scientists who study humanity’s interactions with the natural world, we have met the enemy and the enemy is us.

Like innumerable human settlements world-wide, San Antonio has repeatedly been forced to contend with the costs of its own successes. Economic growth has expanded our population, which has in turn expanded our footprint on the land. That has meant a steady degradation of the quality and quantity of our main source of drinking water, the Edwards Aquifer. It has resulted frequently in the spoiling of our land and air. It has driven numerous species endemic to this place extinct and taken others close to that precipice.

Now, it appears, is our turn to face down a possible eradication.

life-support warningWhile the evidence of this damage has been obvious for some time, it is only a few years ago that city leaders finally approved measures to address these offenses in a sustainability plan known as Mission Verde. And yet local and global patterns of behavior were already deeply engaged in dismantling the planet’s life-support systems, responsible not only for the salamanders and bats, but for us as well. In a paper aimed at policy makers world-wide, 500 scientists from 44 counties seek to remind us of our utter reliance on the earth’s natural systems.

People have basic needs for food, water, health, and a place to live, and additionally have to produce energy and other products from natural resources to maintain standards of living that each culture considers adequate. Fulfilling all of these needs for all people is not possible in the absence of a healthy, well-functioning global ecosystem. The “global ecosystem” is basically the complex ways that all life forms on Earth—including us—interact with each other and with their physical environment (water, soil, air, and so on). The total of all those myriad interactions compose the planet’s, and our, life support systems.

To maintain that complex network of earth systems that too many of us have for too long taken for granted, the authors are urging immediate action on five inter-connected issues.

While climate change demands a rapid departure from both our traditional fossil-fuel energy sources and industrial animal-farming practices, the consensus paper makes clear it is not the only challenge we face. (If you need a refresher on the immediate threat here, try’s recent video offering Do The Math.)

erlichPaul Erlich, president of the Center for Conservation Biology and the Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University and one of the report’s authors, summarizes the others at The Daily Climate today:

Extinctions – Not since the dinosaurs were exterminated have so many species and populations died out so fast, both on land and in the oceans.

Wholesale loss of diverse ecosystems – We have plowed under, paved over, or otherwise transformed more than 40 percent of Earth’s ice-free land, and no place on land or in the sea is free of direct or indirect human influences.

Toxic pollution – Environmental contaminants in the air, water and land are at record levels and increasing, seriously harming people and wildlife in unforeseen ways. Of special concern are the novel chemicals humanity spreads from pole-to-pole that mimic hormones and may derange animal development.

Human population growth and consumption patterns – Seven billion people alive today will likely grow to 9.5 billion by 2050 unless disaster intervenes, and the pressures of heavy material consumption among the middle class and wealthy may well intensify.

He adds:

I helped write the statement and signed it because I’m worried. And I’m not alone in my worries. “By the time today’s children reach middle age,” the scientists warn, “it is extremely likely that Earth’s life-support systems, critical for human prosperity and existence, will be irretrievably damaged by the magnitude, global extent, and combination of these human-caused environmental stressors, unless we take concrete, immediate actions to ensure a sustainable, high-quality future.”

The scientists are led by professors Anthony Barnofsky of the University of California, Berkeley, and Elizabeth Hadly of Stanford University. “We are sounding this alarm to the world,” they concluded. “For humanity’s continued health and prosperity, we all – individuals, businesses, political leaders, religious leaders, scientists, and people in every walk of life – must work hard to solve these five global problems, starting today.”

As what Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff has called San Antonio’s “crown jewel,” our re-naturalized San Antonio River trail system, comes into its own to the delight of so many of our residents, the above consensus paper on our planet’s teetering ability to support our species any longer demands the question of the needs and rights of nature be soberly addressed at a community level.

San Antonio’s City Council must consider these issues when they grapple with Bat Conservation International’s question, for example, of a planned development beside Bracken Cave in Comal County. “What happens when you put 10,000 people next to more than ten million bats?” the organization asks.

bats and bedrooms

Facing yet another of history’s manifold opportunities to do right by our species and our living habitat, they have less than a week to prepare.

Here’s the message from BatCon’s Executive Director:

As you probably know, Bracken is home to the world’s largest population of bats. The nightly emergence of ten million Mexican free-tailed bats from Bracken Cave, 20 minutes north of San Antonio in central Texas, is one of the world’s great natural phenomena, and we need your immediate advice and help. A San Antonio developer, Brad Galo of Galo Properties, has proposed a 1,500-acre, 3,800-home “Crescent Hills” to the immediate south of our reserve, in the twice-daily flight path of these millions of bats. 

The development also lies within the sensitive Edwards Aquifer-recharge zone and puts at risk the many millions of public dollars that have been invested in protecting the area. Quarter-acre zoning is out of keeping with the large ranches that characterize the area and the interspersed, one- to three-acre lots which currently constitute “intensive” development. The Galo property, like our land and nearby Nature Conservancy property, is also important nesting and foraging habitat for the federally endangered golden-cheeked warbler (the yellow circles on the map).

Crescent Hills Subdivision

Texas law leaves little or no room for consideration of environmental issues. The San Antonio Water System (SAWS) has granted Mr. Galo the water and sewer hookups he needs for 3,800 homes, but SAWS is not permitted to determine if adequate water supplies exist or to comment on the wisdom of putting nearly 4,000 homes in the middle of a protected recharge area. This project will ultimately come before the San Antonio Planning Commission for approval, but even the Planning Commission lacks the authority to take environmental concerns into account. In fact, if the Commission does nothing, the development will be automatically approved after 30 days.

We’ve been told by our attorneys that the San Antonio City Council and Mayor Castro are our only real recourse, and that our hopes for persuading them to take action rest in our ability to make this a significant public and media issue. Aside from the ecological issues, we’re concerned about putting 10,000 people next to millions of building-loving adult bats and millions more juvenile bats learning to fly that will be attracted to the insects gathering around the porch and street lights of these homes. Should some poor child or parent come into contact with a sick bat or a pet that picked up a sick bat and contract rabies, it won’t matter that the bats have been there for 10,000 or more years.  There will be a growing call for the city health department to deal with “this threat to public safety.”

Those of you who take the time to read the above report (or those marching against Monsanto this Saturday) will likely need no reason to step up for the bats. After all, this remarkable community of creatures have a right to continue to exist as they ever have. The what’s-in-it-for-me bunch will be reminded that our planet’s withering biodiversity is the key to our own continuance. Bats, for instance, are good for us. Specifically, Bracken’s bunch are believed to eat 100 tons of insects every night, preventing growers from spraying millions of dollars of chemical pest controls.

Annalisa Peace at the Greater Edwards Aquifer Alliance is urging support at this coming week’s Citizens To Be Heard session of Council:

We are asking:

That City Council rescind the service contract approved by the SAWS Board for water and sewage service to Crescent Hills

That SAWS amend their CCN permit so that they are not the sole service provider for part of Comal County

For a large buffer zone to protect the Bracken Bat Cave, similar to the buffer zone that protects the Toyota Plant, and for enforcement of San Antonio’s 15% Impervious Cover Limit as required on this site.

We have been informed by the City of San Antonio that they will not be enforcing our Water Quality and Tree Preservation ordinances in Comal County. If true, this is all the more reason that SAWS service should not be provided to the Crescent Hills Development in Comal County. We hope that hearing from citizens on this issue will prompt the Mayor, City Council, and the SAWS Board to actions that will protect our primary source of water and curtail high density development of the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone.

Your chance to have an impact comes this Wednesday.


Related events you may be interested in:

On June 18, James Cannizzo will speak at a Sierra Club meeting about military efforts to save the federally endangered golden-cheeked warbler (which shares boundaries with Bracken Cave). From the SC release:

Uncontrolled habitat destruction throughout northern Bexar County is rapidly making Camp Bullis a lone island of refuge for endangered Golden-cheeked warblers. As a result, the areas usable for Bullis’s training missions are continually shrinking. This has made Camp Bullis and Joint Base San Antonio an influential voice for environmental protection. James V. Cannizzo will tell us how our local military commands are fighting for endangered species habitat, the Edwards Aquifer and Bexar County’s forests.

And right behind that, this from the Alamo RMA regarding the Very Big Road on top of your drinking water’s recharge zone.

The US 281 Draft EIS is now available for review and comment. A Public Hearing on the Draft EIS will be held on June 20, 2013 at the San Antonio Shrine Auditorium (formerly known as Alzafar Shrine located betweenStone Oak Parkway and Blanco Road on Loop 1604). The Draft EIS is a record of the effort leading up to and including the alternatives being considered to improve the US 281 corridor.

Here’s the visual key, starting with the No Build alternative.

us281 draft eis

A public hearing is scheduled for June 20. Comment period closes July 1.