PGC will install a gate on an abandoned train tunnel to protect the bats living inside.

Last updated: March 30. 2013 3:58PM - 2873 Views
By - tvenesky@civitasmedia.com

RICK KOVAL/FOR THE TIMES LEADERA small-footed bat clings to a rock inside a tunnel on State Game Lands 207 in Rice Township.
RICK KOVAL/FOR THE TIMES LEADERA small-footed bat clings to a rock inside a tunnel on State Game Lands 207 in Rice Township.
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Standing before the entrance to an ancient train tunnel more than a mile back on State Game Lands 207 in Rice Township, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Greg Turner reflected on the need for a project to protect the bats inside when proof flew right by.
A small-footed bat fluttered across the tunnel's entrance and into the surrounding woods. It was a good sign that the abandoned tunnel, which extends for more than a mile, is being utilized by bats. That's why the Pennsylvania Game Commission is planning on installing a gate at the entrance to the tunnel to limit access to humans but allow the bats to fly back and forth freely. The agency hopes to have the project completed by October.
Game Commission biologist Kevin Wenner said after the gate is installed the area in front will be back-filled to limit the amount of cold air exiting the tunnel.
“We need to catch that cold air and keep it because it's too warm in there now,” Wenner said. “You want something in the 50 degree range for bats, and right now we're not achieving that.”
The PGC has installed gates at other areas throughout the state, and Turner said they typically result in an increase in bat numbers because the disturbance from humans is reduced. He predicted the tunnel on SGL 207 will see an increase not only in the overall number of bats, but possibly the amount of species as well.
“In the back it's a little more warmer, and pipistrelle's like it warmer and humid. Up front you have a lot of air flow, and there you can have big browns and small-footed bats because they can tolerate that change,” Turner said. “There's water further back, and that's where you may have Indiana, little brown and long-eared bats.
“There are multiple temperature ranges in this tunnel, which is good.”
The variety of temperatures is important for hibernating bats. In a colder environment bats are less prone to arouse out of hibernation, Turner said, reducing the amount of energy expended. As their body fat is used during hibernation, bats will move toward colder areas to reduce winter arousals.
The key, however, is minimizing disturbance inside. That's especially crucial today as bats are dying off at an alarming rate due to white nose syndrome - a disease which causes the small mammals to awaken during winter hibernation and perish.
“If you minimize the disturbance in the winter, you're increasing the chance that they'll survive,” Turner said, adding there are some bats in the tunnel that are surviving the disease.
“Once you have sites like this gated, we see bats from all over the area flock to this location.”

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