August 20, 2012

Bats may be given endangered status

By Kay Stephens | The Altoona Mirror | 20 August 2012

The state Game Commission is asking for public comment on adding three types of bats to the state’s endangered species list.

Since the December 2008 identification in Pennsylvania of white-nose syndrome, a bat fungal disease, bat populations have declined to a point that the commission wants to consider measures that will offer some protection for Northern Long-Eared Bat, the Tri-Colored Bat (formerly known as the Eastern Pipestrelle) and the Little Brown Bat.

In an advertisement seeking comment through Sept. 11, Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe said consideration is warranted because the three bat species “clearly are in imminent danger” based on reports showing population declines as high as 99 percent.

White-nose syndrome – a bat fungal disease – has been confirmed in 23 counties, including Blair, Cambria, Centre, Huntingdon, Bedford and Clearfield, and is suspected in seven additional counties, according to the commission.

Environmental Educational Specialist Michelle McCloskey said she has noticed the decline in bats this year at the Black Moshannon State Park in Philipsburg.

“We have six bat boxes that used to hold anywhere from 100 to over 300 bats,” she said. “This year, we have only counted 362 in one bat box.”

Evening pontoon boat riders used to be able to see bats eating insects over the lake, but not this year, McCloskey added.

While bats are considered an important part of the ecosystem, putting them on the state’s threatened and endangered species list will have real-life consequences, Roe told the monthly Outdoor News publication for a story in its June edition.

“If you need a new roof on your house and you have a small colony in there, you may be dealing with a leaking roof for a while,” he told the publication.

Before a species goes on the state’s endangered list, the commission must first hold a public hearing, then schedule action, spokesman Jerry Feaser said.

Comments submitted in response to the commission’s advertisement may or may not be ready for review at the commission’s next meeting on Sept. 24 and 25 in Franklin, Venango County. An agenda for that meeting will be ready about a week beforehand, Feaser said.

The commission’s advertisement offered no detail as to what actions might be considered to help preserve and rebuild the bat populations.

Possible measures would include seasonable restrictions on timber cutting in areas with bat maternity sites, restrictions on human entry in areas where bats are hibernating and restrictions on wind turbine operations, also identified in a contributing factor in bat mortalities.

Ideas are likely to be explored as part of a conservation plan to be developed, addressing forest land management activities on state lands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week that it will provide a $600,000 grant for development of that plan by the Game Commission and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

While the plan is expected to address impacts to the Indiana bat population decline, the grant announcement indicated that plan may also identify strategies that will address the rapid decline of other bat species.

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