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Since November 1995 the Oklahoma Bat Caves National Wildlife Refuge has been designated as the Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge. The name change reflects the move toward managing and protecting an ecosystem in the Ozark karst (limestone) topography. As part of a national trend after the passage of the Endangered Species Act (1973), the preserve was created in 1985 to protect endangered bats and their habitats in northeastern Oklahoma. In order to establish the wildlife sanctuary, agreements were made among local, state, and federal agencies as well as private landowners.

Of the six federally listed endangered species of bats in the continental United States, three have been found in Oklahoma. The Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge consists of ten tracts totaling 3,748 acres in Adair, Delaware, and Ottawa counties, where caves in the karst region offer a home to the Ozark big-eared bat [Corynorhinus (townsendii ingens)], the gray bat (Myotis grisescens), and the Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis). In 2003 approximately one thousand Ozark big-eared bats and an estimated forty-six thousand gray bats used the sanctuary. Because Oklahoma is on the extreme western edge of the Indiana bat's range, only a few have been recorded in the past, and none have been found recently. Other cave inhabitants include the Ozark cave fish, Ozark cave crayfish, salamanders, cave crickets, and other bat species. The bats feed on flying insects such as flies, moths, and mosquitoes found in the nearby oak-hickory forests. These forests also provide a habitat for approximately two hundred varieties of migratory birds.

The refuge is closed to the public except for scientific research, because bats are sensitive to human intrusion, which can cause their deaths or cause their migration to less desirable environments. At the turn of the twenty-first century the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the National Wildlife Refuge System of approximately 540 refuges, wanted to acquire an additional 11,933 acres of ecologically important areas in Cherokee, Craig, Mayes, and Sequoyah counties. If approved, the area would be added to the Ozark Plateau National Wildlife Refuge.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Russell D. Butcher, America's National Wildlife Refuges: A Complete Guide (Lanham, Md.: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 2003). William Caire, Jack D. Tyler, Bryan P. Glass, and Michael A. Mares, The Mammals of Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 9 February 1986 and 12 April 1993. Steve Hensley, "The Treasures of the Ozark Plateau," Endangered Species Bulletin 28 (January/February 2003).

Linda D. Wilson

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