While the small-footed bat that flew out of the tunnel on State Game Lands 207 was a good sign, Pennsylvania Game Commission biologist Greg Turner said the sighting was bittersweet.
The fact that the bat was active in March during the daylight hours and went right to water to drink was evidence that it is infected with white-nose syndrome. Turner said just about every bat in the state is infected to varying degrees, and the devastation with some species is significant.
“Just the fact that this bat made it through the winter doesn’t mean it will live,” he said. “We’ve seen an overall decline of 98 percent of all bats. With the little brown bat, there’s been a 99.5 percent decline.”
There is hope, albeit slight. In an old mine in Glen Lyon, Turner said, there are still 1,000 to 2,000 little brown bats. If the young survive the winter without becoming infected with white-nose syndrome, there will be recovery.
If not, then the future is bleak for that species.
“We need to do everything we can to protect these last few survivors. It will take years to determine if the juveniles are surviving, so we cant’ just sit back and wait,” Turner said. “We’re trying to do something to prevent bats from becoming extirpated in this state.”
Turner is hopeful that bats will be listed as endangered in the state, a designation that will grant additional protection to the areas they inhabit. There have been objections from the timber industry and others about the idea, but Turner is optimistic a compromise can be reached.
“We’re trying to protect what is left and start the recovery process,” he said. “A state listing opens up the door for funds so we can do that.”