New mine closure in Peoria protects both the public and threatened bats

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August 31st, 2009

First bat cupola to be constructed within city limits

It’s a win-win for the public and Arizona’s wildlife. In a cooperative effort led by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the abandoned Sunrise Relief Mine in Peoria was secured on Aug. 19 to protect the public and remove the fence eyesore for local residents, all while protecting threatened California leaf-nosed bats.

A special bat-friendly gate, or cupola, was built to close the mine entrance located on BLM-managed land at 91st Ave. and Happy Valley Road. The cupola will preclude people from entering the mine while allowing the bats living in the extensive mine to enter and exit.

“The message is – ‘stay out and stay alive’,” explains Steve Cohn, field manager for the BLM’s Hassayampa Field Office. “In 2009, we fenced 25 abandoned mine sites and are working to immediately and permanently close 20 high-risk sites that have completed wildlife and cultural clearances. Where bats are present, we are committed to continue work with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to have bat gates installed.”

The BLM has a long history of resolving safety and environmental concerns at abandoned mines and has prioritized this and other sites that are in close proximity to both current and future residential developments.

“We are excited to see this project evolve from one where originally there were competing interests to one where all of the partners are proud to have found common ground that meets each partner’s objectives,” says Angie McIntire, bat conservation biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. “The BLM’s willingness to consider alternative options for closing the mine will help us conserve an important winter roost site for California leaf-nosed bats, which are a species of concern in Arizona.”

Experts believe that preserving winter roost sites are particularly important for leaf-nosed bats. The species does not migrate or hibernate in the winter and requires geothermally warmed mine sites, making appropriate winter roosts limited for these mammals. Biologists estimate that 100-400 bats use the Sunrise Relief Mine during the winter.

The cupola is one of the first examples in the United States of a bat cupola being constructed within city limits to close a mine while protecting bats. Game and Fish plans to study the site after the cupola is installed to evaluate the effectiveness of the mine closure and what effects it has on the bat population. Other factors including future residential and road development may also have an effect and will be monitored.

Partners on the project include Game and Fish, BLM, State Mine Inspector, City of Peoria and MK Company, a housing development company working in the Peoria area.

Management of bats falls under the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s program to recover species that are threatened, declining or that have been extirpated from the state.

Through Game and Fish’s partnerships with other public agencies, non-profit organizations and the science community, the department’s wildlife recovery program aims to prevent species from becoming endangered and conserve them in a more cost-effective manner. State-level involvement provides closer oversight of wildlife species on a day-to-day basis. Specific emphasis is placed on identifying and managing the wildlife and habitat of greatest conservation need, or those species that are no longer abundant and facing increasing threats from habitat degradation, disease, introduction of non-native species and climate change.

The BLM has now documented 1,060 mine sites in the greater Phoenix area, many of which are abandoned and potentially dangerous. Six high-risk abandoned mines near Wickenburg are slated for closure under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“Arizona has a rich legacy of mining in areas that were previously considered remote, but now they are in urban development zones where we are ensuring public safety,” Cohn adds.

The Abandoned Mines Lands Program (AML) mitigates physical safety risks at these sites administered by the BLM.

Recreationists that come across a shaft or mining site that is exposed are encouraged to obtain the GPS coordinates and notify the Arizona State Mine Inspector.

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