The Pennsylvania Game Commission has announced that it's not moving forward at this time on regulatory changes to protect three species of cave-dwelling bats, whose numbers have declined drastically due to the fungus known as White Nose Syndrome: the northern long-eared bat (99% decline), the tri-colored bat (98% decline), and the little brown bat (99% decline).
Bats are primary consumers of insects, which might otherwise cause billions of dollars in damage to farm crops, according to the USGS National Wildlife Health Center.
According to commission spokesman Jerry Feaser industry sectors whose operations might be affected by protective measures--oil and gas drilling, mining, timber and wind power generation—misunderstood the notice and reacted as though new regulations had already been formulated.
"By no means have we actually drafted anything. So basically what we've announced is that we're not at this point going to even move forward with the effort to begin drafting because we feel there's need for more comment, more communication, more discussion, and in fact, more research on the situation."
Possible mitigations mentioned in the August 5, 2012 Bulletin include state listing of the bats as endangered species, some restrictions on timber cutting, protection of caves where the bats hibernate, and seasonal curtailment of wind turbines.
The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce said in a letter to the Game Commission that an endangered listing would “create economic burdens for job creators.” Robert Long of the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association predicted “tens of thousands of jobs potentially impacted” if the bats are given endangered species status.
Feaser said the state has taken some protective measures already, such as gating some caves so people cannot disturb the bats' winter hibernating spots or carry the fungus from one cave to another. He also said the Game Commission has been working with 33 wind energy companies since 2007 on pre- and post-construction monitoring to assess wind turbines' impact on bats and birds. The commission is "still committed to protecting and conserving wildlife species...we need to do so within the context of public input," said Feaser.