Gallagher also recommends halting wind turbines at night during fall migrations, especially when wind speeds are slow. Studies indicate bats die from striking the turbines in greatest numbers during those conditions. Quigley, who served on the Pennsylvania Wind Working Group of advisors, concurs and said stopping the blades when wind is slow doesn't greatly reduce the amount of electricity generated. Also Quigley said wind turbines shouldn't be installed near large bat populations or habitats. A technology to use acoustic devices to route bats away from turbines shows promise, he said, but needs to be improved urgently.
A fungus is killing bats so fast that the Pennsylvania Game Commission wants to accelerate efforts to defend them.
“We’ve asked our staff to prepare for us in 30 days a list of all reasonable actions we can take to deal with bats,” commission Vice President David Putnam said. “Time is of the essence. We have a very short window (in which) we might affect the survivors.”
A disease called white-nose syndrome linked to a fungus with the appropriately sinister name of Pseudogymnoascus destructans showed up in a cave in New York seven years ago.
Since then, white-nose syndrome spread to 22 others states and five Canadian provinces and killed an estimated 5.7 million bats, according to Bat Conservation International.
Putnam, a wildlife biologist who represents District 3 in Northcentral Pennsylvania for the commission, puts the death rate at 97 percent in Pennsylvania
He figures the commission has a year or two to intervene before the slow-reproducing mammals are beyond help.
Putnam said the commission has to hurry to act before bats start hibernating this year.
“No reasonable offer should be refused,” he said.
Actions that the commission might consider include trying to fight the disease-causing fungus with another fungus or a bacteria, Putnam said. Putnam said researchers might have designed experiments to help bats that the commission could fund.
At Bucknell University, DeeAnn Reeder, an associate professor of biology, said efforts have failed so far to find drugs or other treatments for the disease. Attempts to develop a vaccine will be costly, but could prove promising, Reeder said by email.
Because the fungus survives better in warm weather, attempts to cool caves, mines and other places where bats hibernate could help bats survive, Reeder said. The fungus does best in temperatures of 10 to 14 degrees Celsius, whereas temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius are optimal for hibernating bats, she said.
In Pennsylvania, white-nose syndrome affects six species: little brown bat, big brown bat, Indiana bat, Eastern small-footed bat, Northern long-eared bat and tricolored bat.
All those species spend winters in caves, old mines and other structures called hibernacula.
Reeder, who studies white-nose syndrome with the Game Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and groups from other states, said researchers have found that survival rates vary with species. Populations of little brown bats have fallen more sharply, for example, than those of big brown bats.
Like many states, Pennsylvania asked explorers and others to stay out of caves and mines because of the possibility that humans could spread the disease. U.S. agencies also restricted access to bat dwellings on federal lands.
John Quigley, former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and former Hazleton mayor, talked about protecting places where bats live when asked what actions he would suggest that the Game Commission take.
“Preserve existing bat populations – not only caves, but forests – is critical to preserve existing populations and provide conditions that would support population recovery,” Quigley said in an email.
Quigley also said developers should follow steps enacted to protect endangered species.
In Mountain Top, for example, the owners of Small Mountain Quarry got permission to expand in July after they put aside land as a trade to protect the Indiana bat, which was found within 10 miles of the quarry.
The federal government lists the Indiana bat as endangered.
On Tuesday the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the Northern long-eared bat as endangered. The service determined the Eastern small-footed bat doesn’t merit listing.
People will have 60 days to comment on the proposal for the Northern long-eared bat, and the Fish and Wildlife Service will study the comments for a year before making a final ruling.
In Pennsylvania, Putnam doesn’t favor listing other bats as endangered because of the time that the process takes and because listing a bat might restrict the efforts that the commission could try to save them.
“The Indiana bat is listed. I don’t think we will do much with that because of the hoops we have to jump through. If it’s listed … and we have to jump through hoops, the game is over,” he said.
Political pressure against listing species has mounted in Pennsylvania, where lawmakers are considering a bill to lengthen the process for putting species on endangered or threatened lists.
Susan Gallagher, chief naturalist at the Carbon County Environmental Education Center, however, recommends that the Game Commission list cave-dwelling bats as endangered in Pennsylvania.
“Basically there are other interests of coal, wind, forestry all at play here. I understand that. I do, but I also understand we’re looking at 85 (percent) to 100 percent mortality – animals that are never going to rebound in our lifetime. We have a responsibility to protect them,” Gallagher said.
She said most bats have one pup a year, a rate that suggests bats won’t return quickly to populations to levels that lived in Pennsylvania before white-nose syndrome. The die-off of bats reduces their roles in the web of life of pollenating plants and eating insects that can pester people or damage crops.
Gallagher also recommends halting wind turbines at night during fall migrations, especially when wind speeds are slow.
Studies indicate bats die from striking the turbines in greatest numbers during those conditions.
Quigley, who served on the Pennsylvania Wind Working Group of advisors, concurs and said stopping the blades when wind is slow doesn’t greatly reduce the amount of electricity generated.
Also Quigley said wind turbines shouldn’t be installed near large bat populations or habitats.
A technology to use acoustic devices to route bats away from turbines shows promise, he said, but needs to be improved urgently.
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