The cave-dwelling bat population in Pennsylvania is continuing its free-fall, according to the state Game Commission, which trapped only 10 bats at Long Run Mine earlier this month as part of a population study.
The survey assessed 10 caves across the state and the low returns lead endangered mammal specialists like Greg Turner to believe 98 percent of all cave bats are dead.
Long Run Mine, which runs along of the border of Butler and Armstrong counties, was once the largest bat cave in the state. But Turner said that’s not the case anymore.
“It had an estimated 90,000 or more bats in there,” he said. “We haven’t gone in yet to do another internal survey, but I’m expecting to be finding somewhere of around 100 bats total in there.”
White-Nose Syndrome, a lethal fungus that disrupts a bat’s hibernation cycle, is responsible for the dramatic decline.
Now abandoned, Long Run Mine is owned by limestone excavators Snyder Associated Companies. The natural resource conglomerate has had its troubles with endangered species regulations in the past, including issues with federally endangered mussels and state endangered massasauga rattlesnakes.
Darrel Lewis, chief engineer for Snyder Associated Companies, said endangered species regulations have caused a number of delays and has cost thousands of dollars.
“You can only mine where nature provides the reserve,” he said. “The construction of a blanketing zone of protection over top of that then creates the difficulty or prohibition of operating there.”
While Snyder Associated Companies doesn’t want to jump through any more hoops to conduct its business, Turner said they are going to have to work within the regulations to reverse the dwindling bat population.
“As a business, they own this property and they have this abandoned mine on their property which contains really rare species,” he said. “So, we work with them cooperatively as best we can in order to try and protect and preserve those species.”
Lewis said Snyder's mining activities are not the reason for the bats' deaths and something still needs to be done to make it work for both sides.
“We can’t avoid every impact,” he said. “My bottom line is that there has to be some impact from everything we do.”