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GAME COMMISSION

Actions for Protection of Remaining Populations of Northern Long-Eared Bat, Tri-Colored Bat (Formerly Known as the Eastern Pipestrelle) and the Little Brown Bat; Request for Public Comment

[42 Pa.B. 5310]
[Saturday, August 11, 2012]

 The Game Commission (Commission) is considering actions to protect the current population of three cave-dwelling bat species in this Commonwealth.

 This consideration is prompted by the outbreak and spread of white nose syndrome (WNS) in this Commonwealth and throughout the eastern United States. WNS is a fungal disease affecting bats during hibernation. WNS was first identified in this Commonwealth in December 2008 and by 2012 has spread across all regions of this Commonwealth. WNS has been confirmed in 23 counties and its presence is suspect in 7 counties. These counties include all the known major bat hibernacula in this Commonwealth. Massive mortalities of hibernating bats began in the 2009-2010 winter and have continued each winter.

 The northern long-eared bat is a habitat specialist that inhabits caves, mines and tunnels in winter and forested habitats in summer. This bat hibernates with several other bat species but tends to be less gregarious than other Myotis species, hibernating singly or in small clusters. Comparative pre- and post-WNS hibernacula surveys show a 99% decline in northern long-eared bats in this Commonwealth since 2008. Summer mist-netting in 2011 showed a 93% increase in effort was required to capture this species as compared to pre-WNS.

 The tri-colored bat, formerly known as the eastern pipistrelle, is one of the smaller and previously more common bats in this Commonwealth. Tri-colored bats are one of the first bats to enter caves, mines and tunnels for hibernation and one of the last to depart in spring, thus having the longest exposure to the WNS fungus each winter. This bat tends to be less social and does not hibernate in clusters. Comparative pre- and post-WNS hibernacula surveys show a 98% decline in tri-colored bats in this Commonwealth since 2008. Summer mist-netting in 2011 showed a 185% increase in effort was required to capture this species as compared to pre-WNS. This species also has been a significant component of bat mortalities associated with wind turbines.

 Until recently the little brown bat was the most common (abundant and widely distributed) bat in this Commonwealth. This species inhabits caves, mines and tunnels in winter and trees, barns, attics and caves in summer. A very social animal the little brown bat gathers in caves, mines and tunnels in large clusters for winter hibernation. Massive mortalities of this species began to occur in the 2009-2010 winter. Comparative pre- and post-WNS hibernacula surveys show a 99% decline in little brown bats in these hibernacula since 2008. Summer mist-netting in 2011 showed a 463% increase in effort was required to capture this species as compared to pre-WNS. As with the tri-colored bat, little browns have also been a component of bat mortalities associated with wind turbines.

 With precipitous population declines remaining individuals are critical to the preservation and restoration of the species in this Commonwealth. These three bat species clearly are in imminent danger and their numbers and distribution has been severely reduced. Research is ongoing to investigate the spread of bat deaths associated with WNS, and to develop management strategies to minimize the impacts of WNS on bat populations. Possible mitigation actions likely will include seasonal restrictions on timber cutting in close proximity to known maternity sites, protection of hibernacula, restrictions on winter hibernacula human entry and use, seasonal curtailment of wind turbines in critical areas and others. Also considered is State listing of these bats as endangered. State listing does not have the same impact to projects undergoing environmental reviews as does Federal listing. State listing is a first step in avoiding Federal listing, which results in stringent conservation regulations. It is anticipated and proposed that protective, avoidance and enhancement guidelines will have a high focus on hibernacula to promote survivorship, summer maternity sites to enhance reproduction and activities known to take the species. Since this is a unique issue dealing with once very common species, it will be necessary to essentially begin anew in collecting summer records for these species.

 The Commission will take written public comment on the various proposals outlined previously, as well as any other comments on protective measures for these three bats, postmarked within 30 days of publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, addressed to Calvin DuBrock, Director, Wildlife Management, Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110.

CARL G. ROE, 
Executive Director

[Pa.B. Doc. No. 12-1555. Filed for public inspection August 10, 2012, 9:00 a.m.]



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