ROSELAND, NJ — The Roseland Environmental Commission (REC) has officially commenced the first phase of Roseland’s Bat Repopulation Research Project by distributing bat houses to citizen volunteers.

Present at last week's meeting were REC chair Chris Duthie and commissioners Priscilla Narvaez-Johnson, George Meleas, Elise Geiger, Eileen Proven and Gina Guariglia Kelly. According to Duthie, the purpose of the Roseland Bat Repopulation Research Project is to assess the best methods of restoring bat populations in suburban northern New Jersey communities.

Since 2011, he said, 95 percent of bats in West Essex communities have been eradicated by a new and mysterious disease referred to as White-Nose Syndrome, causing a severe imbalance in Roseland. According to Duthie, this crisis has exaggerated the overabundance of insects coming from the Hatfield Swamp and banks of the Passaic River on the outskirts of the municipality.

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In order to amend this, the REC is hoping to pave the way for the eventual restoration of Roseland's native bat population.

"Mosquito populations along the banks of the Passaic River have flourished," said Duthie. "While 'more mosquitos' is an immediate threat to the human quality of life, other muted consequences must also be taken into account, such as the increasing use of pesticides in our communities to curtail the rising insect populations.

"Most of our public support has come from residents who want fewer mosquitos, but the issue is much farther-reaching than just comfort. Balance in the environment requires all parts of the natural world to function in unison. Undoubtedly, the loss of local bats will have many devastating implications, most of which are not known to us yet."

As part of this project, resident volunteers will be placing bat boxes on their properties and reporting back to the REC on their effectiveness. The next few phases of the program will be determined based on the impact of this initial stage.

"The bat houses work by providing a place for bats to roost, which could possibly support population growth," said Duthie. "Our current project hopes to test the effectiveness of bat houses at increasing bat populations."

The REC suggests that bat houses be hung 12-to-20 feet above ground level, receive roughly six-to-eight hours of sunlight daily and are hung on the side of a tree with relatively few branches. According to the commission, the height of the house provides security from land-roving predators; the sunlight ratio assures that the house does not become too cold or overheat; and placing it where there are no/ few branches both provides defense against predators and encourages safe flight.

Duthie added that it is always best to buy unpainted bat houses so that the borough is not placing any materials into nature that are not organically found.

The REC will be assessing the effectiveness of bat repopulation strategies within the next year, and the distribution of the bat boxes is the first step. Anyone with a successful bat house is encouraged to contact the REC so that the commission is able to determine the exact factors of the positive outcome.