By: Francesca Claverie, BRN Native Plant Program Manager
October is the ultimate fall month in southern Arizona, and as the season shifts, the weather cools, and these longer nights are a perfect time for us to appreciate our nighttime wildlife and pollinators, such as bats! Borderlands Restoration Network has been supporting nectar-feeding bats since we started collecting Agave palmeri seeds in 2013 specifically to growout and plant in habitat restoration sites for migrating Lesser long-nosed bats in the borderlands. Over the years our projects and partnerships have grown and we’ve diversified the ways we support these important pollinators. As we celebrate Bat Week 2021 we want to share our bat and agave work with you and let you know how you can become involved in supporting bats through agave restoration.
Our primary partner for our bats and agave work is Bat Conservation International (BCI). Through contracts with BCI we continue to collect agave seed and growout plants for restoration as well as expand our agave education work by connecting us with partners in Nuevo Leon, Mexico and beyond. BCI expanded its reach into Sonora by working with our partners Colectivo Sonora Silvestre (CSS), Cuenca Los Ojos and Naturalia, A.C. to encourage and support more organizations and individuals to propagate agave from seeds on both sides of the border. To date we have planted 3,774 agaves across the borderlands.
This year through support from BCI and Mountain Rose Herbs we published Agaves for Bats: From Seed to Flower Guide booklet available for download as well as free hard copies available for the cost of shipping. This booklet serves as a resource and guide for all things related to growing agaves from seed including seed collection, greenhouse construction, outplanting, agave salvage, and much more.
This year we’ve also continued to support the National Phenology Network’s Flowers for Bats program with one of our most hardworking and dedicated volunteers, John Hughes, leading expeditions to the Sands Ranch every week during agave flowering season to monitor the phenology of Agave palmeri. John has been monitoring the ranch over the last few years with help from Kathy Hughes and Laura Cleveland having collected hundreds of data points which help inform how agave nectar availability changes over the years as our climate fluctuates. Thank you for all your invaluable help John!
This season Marsella Macias is interning with our program and will be helping out and learning about our agave work in the region. Marsella is shifting careers and we’re happy to have a passionate agave aficionado stay in our community for the season helping with various projects focusing on agaves in the region.
October 2021 also marks one year since BRN and Colectivo Sonora Silvestre won the Connectivity Challenge, the inaugural competitive grant through Colorado State University’s Salazar Center with the project, Bacanora for Bats: Binational Conservation and Sustainable Agave Spirits. This project was designed to develop a sustainability certification for bacanora production through the Consejo Regulatorio de Bacanora, and establish a baseline survey of Agave palmeri populations throughout southern Arizona and northern Sonora. Organized and administered by BRN staff, this funding will support the Colectivo Sonora Silvestre to continue their policy work with the Bacanora Consejo with the agave map modeling component led by Erin Riordan, Research Associate at Desert Laboratory on Tumamoc Hill, University of Arizona, and the on the ground survey work spearheaded by BRN staff and volunteers.
This first year of the Bacanora for Bats project has been a great success with a three part stakeholder symposium meeting held over zoom connecting bat and agave conservationists to bacanora producers, resulting in a signed agreement with the Consejo and the first models of the agave mapping completed. Going forward into the last year of the project, the Bacanora Consejo will review the bylaws of the Bacanora Denomination of Origin to include conservation of the agave with the last of the mapping occurring throughout the year. The last session of the stakeholder meetings will be facilitated in person in collaboration with the Agave Heritage Festival in Tucson, AZ.
There are many ways you can get involved in our bat and agave work including through financial support, volunteering for agave plantings throughout the year and at the Borderlands Nursery & Seed nursery where we propagate agaves, or volunteer for agave phenology work through NPN’s Flower For Bats Campaign. Lastly, you can help us with our agave mapping and survey work which you can do on your own time or during our in person mapping events.
For this year’s Bat Week, we will be holding our first in person agave mapping workshop on Saturday, October 30, 8AM - 1PM at a location in SE Arizona.
Don’t forget to check out our agaves for bats resource page for all things bats and agaves.
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