Slogging through the thick, sticky mud of a pond in Sedona, wildlife biologist Carol Chambers is catching bats in nets stretched across the water.
"We try to place this net where we think will be the flight paths that bats will take and intercept them, Chambers says. She's researching the roosting habits of bats in northern Arizona, gathering data to determine whether the West's massive wildfires are impacting their habitat. "If we know what they're using and whether they're using burned out trees or not, then we can help the Forest Service decide if they should salvage-log the dead trees that are there after fire," Chambers says.
Chambers teaches in NAU's School of Forestry. On a good night, she and her students can catch more than 200 bats. They outfit them with tiny radio transmitters to track them and find out where they're roosting. There are some 20 different kinds in this particular Sedona bat zone. "If we do find bats," Chambers says, "and they're using a few of these trees that are burned up, we see what they look like. And we can say to the Forest Service 'keep these treed that are this size and height because these might be good bat habitat."
As wildfires become greater in the West, Chambers believes protecting bat habitat is critical because bats are good for the ecosystem: They eat insects, fertilize soil and pollinate plants.