Chester O. Martin
SBDN Lifetime Achievement Award 2019
I first became interested in bats in the early 1970s. I had been on active duty with the U.S. Navy and was returning to graduate school at Texas A&M University. Although I had focused on fisheries as an undergraduate, I was searching for a major professor and decided to take a mammalogy course under Dr. David J. Schmidly. As part of the course, we were offered the opportunity to participate in a field collection trip to Mexico. I jumped at the chance and was amazed at the diversity of bats in Mexico; thus, I decided that I wanted to do a thesis project on a species or community of bats. Dr. Schmidly agreed to take me on as a Masters Student (mighty risky), and in 1974 I completed a 256-page thesis on the “Systematics, Ecology, and Life History of Antrozous” (I thought you’d be impressed – it almost killed me).
During my graduate years I made additional trips to Mexico and West Texas and was a co-author on a study of bats of Queretaro, Mexico. I also worked with Dr. Donald Clark, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, on a study of insecticide residues in free-tailed bats at Bracken Cave, Texas. This was long before the cave became the property of Bat Conservation International, and involved multiple trips into the cave during different seasons. As a wildlife artist, I provided a variety of illustrations (on bats and other animals) for theses, dissertations, and journals, including two covers of The Southwestern Naturalist. A major accomplishment during this period was completion of approximately 80 drawings for Dr. Schmidly’s book on the Mammals of Trans-Pecos Texas, which included 23 species of bats.
After graduate school in 1974 I was hired as the first Wildlife Biologist for the Galveston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. I wasn’t able to do much bat work during this period. Then, in 1980 I transferred to the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, MS. I was assigned to the Environmental Laboratory and soon became leader of the Wildlife Resources Team. During the early years my major responsibility was to develop a Wildlife Resources Management Manual for the Corps and I was also involved in riparian zone management, wetlands creation, and habitat restoration projects.
It wasn’t until the 1990s that the door opened for bat studies within the Department of Defense (DoD). Several DoD installations and Corps offices were having concerns with endangered bat species (primarily Indiana and gray bats) and requested assistance from the Corps laboratories. I immediately identified myself as a bat specialist and began writing proposals to do bat surveys. I put together an interdisciplinary team that provided assistance for numerous military installations, including Fort Drum, Fort Belvoir, Fort Leavenworth, Fort Huachuca, Fort Hood, Scott Air Force Base, and the West Point Military Reservation. Major field studies were conducted on Fort Knox, Camp Shelby, Camp McCain, and U.S Naval Air Station Meridian. I served as the Department of Defense Representative for a multi-agency assessment of the gray bat, 2006-07, and published the results in a technical report. I also directed a study of bat populations on Corps project lands in the Upper Connecticut River Basin and provided training on bat management to district personnel. I served as Team Leader and primary investigator for Department of Defense studies on bats from 1998 thru 2008.
In 2001 I established a Bat working Group for the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association (NMFWA), an organization for which I later became President (2003-04). I served as Chair of the NMFWA Bat Working Group from 2001 thru 2007. In 2002 I founded the Mississippi Bat Working Group (MBWG) and served as its Chairperson from 2002 to 2006. I have continued to serve on the MBWG Board of Directors since that time. The purpose of the MBWG is to promote bat research, conservation, awareness, and management throughout the state of Mississippi. Each year we hold an annual meeting and a mist net event and conduct education and awareness programs throughout the state. In 2005 the “Inaugural Chester O. Martin Award” was established in my honor by the MBWG. I also served on the Executive Committee, North American Bat Conservation Association, 2005-07; Board of Directors, Southeastern Bat diversity Network, 2008-09; and Advisory Committee, Mississippi Comprehensive Wildlife conservation Strategy, 2004-06.
During my career I authored/co-authored approximately 160 articles in technical journals, government reports, and other media. Forty of these dealt with bats. Much of my work in later years involved surveys of Rafinesque’s big-eared bats and southeastern myotis in Mississippi. I participated in a conservation and management workshop for these species in 2008. I gave numerous presentations on bats at professional meetings, including the North American Society for Bat Research, SBDN, NMFWA, Southwestern Association of Naturalists, The Wildlife Society, and other state and chapter meetings. I additionally made frequent presentations on bats to conservation and civic groups and served as a guest speaker on Public Radio broadcasts. As a wildlife artist I routinely displayed my paintings at meetings and donated artwork for door prizes and auction items. In 2018 I received the Jay N. “Ding” Darling Award for Wildlife Stewardship through Art,” presented by the Wildlife Society.
Although retired and getting old and creaky, I still am active with the MBWG and participate in annual meetings and mist net events. In 2019 I was honored to receive the SBDN “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Another major accomplishment in 2019 was my role in completion of the “Mississippi Bat Conservation Strategy,” a multi-agency effort to identify Mississippi’s bats, their habitat needs, and promote conservation efforts in the state .