October 19, 2018
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Maine ‘batman’ evicts bats with compassion, sings lullabies to skunks

J.W. Oliver | Lincoln County News
J.W. Oliver | Lincoln County News
Shane Steeves (left) and Butch Davis hold some of the tools of their trade, including some of the “bat doors” they make themselves from wire mesh and zip ties.

Lincoln County has its own “batman” — an expert in bat eviction and guano cleanup who removes bats quickly and thoroughly, but with a sense of duty to the animals.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife recommends only two businesses in the entire state for bat work: one is Midcoast Wildlife Specialists, which Butch Davis runs from a workshop next to his home in Nobleboro.

Davis founded Midcoast Wildlife Specialists in May 2015, but he and his business partner and neighbor, Shane Steeves, have 40 years of experience in exclusion and trapping between them.

Only three years in, the business employs six people and has a fleet of four trucks and two trailers, which are hard to miss with their colorful graphics of bats in flight.

Midcoast Wildlife Specialists deals with almost any animal that gets into houses — no mice or rats — but bats account for more than half of the business.

Bats need two things to move into a home — an entrance and a nearby food source.

Bats can crawl into a hole 1/4-inch tall by 1 1/2 inches wide. They tend to live near fields or open water, both good sources of the bugs they like to eat.

Midcoast Wildlife Specialists finds the hole or holes and evicts the bats by way of one-way “bat doors” the business makes itself from wire mesh and zip ties.

“We don’t physically touch the bats,” Davis said. “We exclude them from the house by their own habits.”

The bats often hang around outside the home for a while, then naturally relocate themselves. The business can’t trap bats — state law prohibits it.

The most expensive and hazardous job comes next — cleanup of the bat dung, or guano.

Guano can transmit an infection called histoplasmosis, which can develop into a life-threatening disease.

The Midcoast Wildlife Specialists crew wears hazmat suits and respirators for cleanup work. After cleanup, the guano goes to a facility for biological waste.

People often fear bats due to concern about rabies. “Rabies in bats is actually very rare,” Davis said. Histoplasmosis is the real danger.

While an exclusion job costs about $1,000-$1,500, guano remediation can run many times that amount.

“In order to clean out a house, we’ve had to take off an entire roof,” Davis said.

The most expensive cleanup so far was a $24,000 job last year in the Kennebec County town of Rome. “That was an extreme situation,” Davis said.

Davis and Steeves have had to remove about 10 roofs. They remove the shingles, plywood and contaminated insulation, clean and sterilize the space, bring in new insulation, and then replace the roof. Usually they can save the plywood, but have to replace the shingles. In many cases, they have to bring subpar insulation up to code.

They also perform other carpentry tasks. They repair holes, replace trim, and cut and trim “scuttle holes” to give homeowners access to an attic or crawl space. “Whatever it takes,” Davis said.

While homeowners insurance rarely covers exclusion, most companies cover the pricey cleanup work, according to Davis.

Davis believes Midcoast Wildlife Specialists is the only business in Maine that will perform all three stages of a bat job — exclusion, cleanup and repair.

Each bat exclusion comes with a two-year warranty against re-entry and an option to extend the warranty.

Due to its sterling reputation and unique business model, Midcoast Wildlife Specialists’ service area includes a wide swath of the state.

Davis and Steeves had come from a job in Ellsworth before an April 25 interview and had been in York the day before. Other recent jobs have taken them as far north as Moosehead Lake.

Business slows down in the winter, when the business can’t evict bats because they could freeze to death. The state also prohibits exclusion during their birthing season, from about June 15 to Aug. 1.

When a bat colony threatens the safety of a family, the business can request special permission to perform an exclusion during these times.

Midcoast Wildlife Specialists avoids exclusions in cold weather due to state regulations, but also due to a sense of duty to the animals.

Davis values this stewardship role, calling it one of his favorite parts of the job. He likes to help people, he said, and he likes “being able to maintain a species that everybody seems to want dead.”

While they sometimes become a nuisance, bats are a friend to humans in other ways. They eat mosquitoes and “crop bugs” that can devastate farmers.

Midcoast Wildlife Specialists mostly deals with the big brown bat, Eptesicus fuscus. The population of another species, the little brown bat, Myotis lucifugus, has been decimated by white nose syndrome.

“We lost about 95 percent of those bats,” Davis said. He hopes they will make a comeback. “We’ve seen a few colonies in Maine over the last few years,” he said.

Bat experts do not believe the big brown bat has the same susceptibility to the disease, but Midcoast Wildlife does its part to ensure sustainability.

“If you lose an entire species, you lose part of the circle — we call it the circle of wildlife,” Davis said.

Davis’ work and philosophy have earned him a nickname. “I am known as ‘Batman’ around the state,” he said.

Davis estimates that bats make up about 60 percent of his business, flying squirrels 15 percent, and everything else — gray and red squirrels, groundhogs, porcupines, raccoons, skunks — 25 percent.

Davis and Steeves have tricks for how to catch each animal — and even how to keep a skunk calm after trapping.

To prevent an unpleasant ride, they use special cages that keep out the light — and they sing.

“They like a little lullaby,” Davis said. “It calms them down.”

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