Local forest benefits from Eagle Scout bat conservation project

Published: Sep. 2, 2022 at 5:55 PM CDT
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OREGON, Ill. (WIFR) - Better Place Forests Rock River’s 60-acre property in Oregon is designed to offer people an alternative option when their loved ones pass away.

Forest Manager Karson Paris describes it saying, “We’re the first U.S.-Based company to offer forests as an alternative to cemeteries when folks choose cremation.”

However, thanks to recent high school graduate and aspiring Eagle Scout Magnolia Goodin, Better Place is also a haven for bats, a species whose population is on the decline.

“I like speaking for those without a voice,” explains Goodin. “Doing something where I could help conserve an endangered bat population seemed like a great opportunity for me.”

Paris agrees, saying Goodin reached out to the forest herself, and the company was delighted when she did.

Bat totals all over Illinois are down and dropping because of white nose syndrome, a disease where a fungus infects the mammal’s skin. Deforestation and climate change also contribute. For Magnolia’s final Eagle Scout project, she built bat boxes, shelters that sit high off the ground. There are now two at Better Place Forests along the Rock River.

“Helping animals get places where they need to go and for them to stay safe is really important to me,” she adds. “They need help finding places to roost or somewhere to stay, so they’re not going somewhere that’s dangerous for them like somebody’s attic.”

But why bats? Many people see them as creepy or pesky, but local conservationists say they are helpful to humans, and it’s critical to keep them alive.

Conservation Biologist Mark Davis with the Illinois Bat Conservation Project can’t say enough good things about them. “Bats are awesome and they’re really important to Illinois’ economy,” he exclaims. “With bats out there, farmers can be less reliant on spending money on pesticides to get rid of these things and we have more of a natural way of getting rid of these things. And without bats, it’s going to cost millions of dollars more annually, according to the research, in additional funds spent or damage to crops.”

Illinois is home to 13 species of bats, each of which plays a vital role in getting rid of those pests humans find annoying, that includes mosquitoes and flies. As Davis mentioned, they also control populations of insects that can destroy crops.

Goodin agrees and adds that even the process of building the boxes has benefits, saying for those with a big garden, bats are also great pollinators. She explains that putting a bat box in your yard doesn’t necessarily attract bats that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Instead, it gives the ones that may be lurking in your garage or attic a new place to roost.

But the mammal has benefits beyond just killing mosquitoes, flies and other pets.

“I enjoy a glass of tequila every now and then. Agave is pollinated by bats,” laughs Davis. “These things make our lives better in so many ways.”

So whether it’s to help your crops, eliminate pests or sweeten your cocktails, our bat backers encourage us to keep the future of the winged creatures bright. Thanks to Magnolia Goodin, Better Place Forests Rock River has a start.