Our Consumers Energy crews work hard to power Michigan with electricity and natural gas, but they aren’t afraid to stop the job for safety – for employees, customers, four-legged creatures or even those with wings.
In May, environmental analyst Emily Macqueen was looking for bats and other environmental concerns at an Allegan County pipeline project when she spotted what might be a bat habitat. The problem—this wasn’t just a walk through the woods for Macqueen. The urgent pipeline project meant forestry crews needed to remove some trees ASAP, but protecting endangered creatures comes first.
Macqueen knew the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had already found the endangered Indiana bats in the region. White-nose syndrome, a fungus that causes bats to emerge from hibernation during winter when food is scarce, is responsible for wiping out much of the Indiana bat population. Macqueen knew we had to determine if bats were in the trees before they could be cleared.
Macqueen called Lindsey Johnson, a Consumers Energy environmental engineer who is trained in bat survey work and species protection.
“She’s done a lot of bat studies, been trained by experts and was the most experienced in our group,” Macqueen said. “She was able to coach me on setting up the survey so we could rule out if bats were in the area.”
Johnson said Macqueen’s instincts were right. The area’s features made it possible for Indiana bats to roost there. The small but mighty mosquito-eater is only about three-inches long but can eat around 1,000 mosquitos an hour – a quality every Michigander can appreciate.
“Indiana bats really enjoy dead trees because they spend the days under the bark to stay warm,” Johnson said. “They emerge at night to feed, then swoop over bodies of water to get their mosquitos and a drink.”
Johnson advised Macqueen to round up a crew and ask those who usually work in the ground inspecting, digging up and replacing pipes to shift their attention to the sky.
Johnson and Macqueen provided emergency training and built a survey, which staged bat spotters at potential roosts. The spotters stayed from 30 minutes before sunset to 30 minutes after and waited for any sign of bats.
“The team members were all very interested in why we had to do it and ensuring it was done correctly,” Macqueen said. “They were empowered beyond their everyday roles to protect the environment.”
Johnson said, “The fact that she (Macqueen) was able to get 15 people out there on short notice shows how committed our company is to sustainability. We are ready to comply with regulations and even go above and beyond to protect creatures near our projects.”
Tom Burns with Cleveland Integrity Services was chief inspector on the pipeline remediation project and supervised some of the crews in the field.
“We came together and followed instructions without hesitation, and we got the work completed,” he said. “It was interesting because none of us has ever done this before. We were thankful to Emily and Lindsey who supported the project in a caring manner that allowed us to move forward with confidence.”
If bats were found, the work would have had to wait. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would confirm types of bats onsite, and new regulations meant the trees would have to stay until October when bats move to warmer climates.
In this case, crews didn’t spot any bats and safely continued their work. But the effort is one example of how we care for creatures on our lands.
“It definitely showed we’re focused not just on the more known species of plants and animals that are threatened or endangered,” Johnson said. “We also protect seasonal species that might be near our projects.”
Previous species protection projects involved the Kirtland’s warbler, Blanding’s, Spotted and Wood Turtles, the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake, bees, butterflies and flowers. We’ve even relocated protected mussels from streams under the supervision of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
We also look out for the state’s largest Indiana bat colony near the Tippy Dam on the Manistee River in Wellston, which is a research site for Indiana bats. Scientists have studied the bats’ lifecycle, migration and hibernation trends and white-nose syndrome to help better protect our winged friends.