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KAYSVILLE — Holy infestation mitigation, Batman!
The Davis School District will spend nearly $350,000 to seal gaps in Davis High School that have allowed Brazilian free-tailed bats to enter the Kaysville school and occupy its band room and child care area.
There are no bats in the school now, but the work to seal the entry points and mitigate other remnants of their previous visit needs to take place by April when the bats migrate north from Mexico to mate. On Tuesday, the school board approved a $346,000 contract for the work.
Any entry point a quarter-inch in size needs to be closed because bats can compress their bodies to enter small openings.
"As long as their skull can get through, their body can get through," said Nicki Frey, Utah State University Extension assistant professor of wildland resources.
As bats go, Brazilian free-tailed bats are among the larger species found in the region, she said.
"When we think of bats, we’re generally thinking of western pipistrelle or little brown bats and those bodies are like 2 inches and wingspan of 4 to 5 inches. The Brazilian free-tailed bat is probably a third of size larger than that," said Frey, whose research speciality is human-wildlife conflict management.
This is the fourth time the school district has paid contractors to address bat infestations of its schools. Bat mitigation projects have been conducted at Hannah Holbrook Elementary in Bountiful, Stewart Elementary in Centerville, and last year at Layton High School.
The combined cost of the projects is nearly $1 million.
"We've got a colony of Brazilian free-tailed bats who seem to like Davis County. They migrate into the county in the fall and in the spring. Last year at Layton High we estimate we had about 5,000 of those bats, primarily in the auditorium area. The auditorium was closed at least a month while we did what we could to mitigate the bats," said Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams.
Once they left, "we had a lot of cleaning to do in the auditorium," he said.
Bats are protected under state and federal law so the school district's options in controlling them are limited.
The district works with a licensed wildlife handler and the state Division of Wildlife Resources "to make sure we treat the bats like the protected species they are."
After sealing Layton High School, a smaller colony of about 1,000 bats moved on to Davis High School.
"They've moved on again, but we want to make sure this work is done before they come back," Williams said.
Displaced bats look for other habitat, according to Frey.
"Hopefully, they just go to the next really good habitat that’s not somebody’s house. That’s the problem, if you do displace them, they have to go somewhere. They probably won’t die. We don’t want them to die," Frey said, explaining that bats are helpful to humans because they primarily subsist on insects.
The bats' occasional occupation of schools is "unfortunately something we deal with," Williams said.
Flyers are sent home to parents to ask their help in informing students not to touch bats, which can carry rabies. Bats on the ground are likely injured or sick. Anyone who touches a bat will need to undergo shots to mitigate the possibility of developing rabies.
Once a human develops symptoms of rabies, "there’s nothing a doctor can do for you. You’re basically dead," Frey said.
Williams said the school district does what it can to keep ahead of migrating bats but it presents challenges each fall and spring.
"Once they're in a building, it's 'wait and see' until they leave. Then we are cleaning up the mess and doing what we can to seal up their entry points," he said.
Frey said bats migrate south to hibernate and head north to breed and Utah's along that route for this particularly species.
And is there a more child-friendly spot than Utah?
"It's a safe place to raise your children. It doesn't matter what kind of mammal you are, right?" Frey said.