Numbers don't lie when it comes to bats
Rich Fritsky talked of lugging baskets contained one thousand bats out of the mine as we stood in the darkness waiting.
Fritsky, who is a wildlife diversity biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, joined agency mammologist Greg Turner for a night of bat trapping in an abandoned mine in Glen Lyon, Luzerne County. Knowing that the mine historically has been one of the top sites in the state for bats, I tagged along for a few hours hoping to see a fair number of the small mammals.
After several hours, I saw three. That's all that were captured in the traps that night.
Unfortunately, it wasn't a surprise.
The Game Commission uses harp traps – columns of fishing line strung vertically across the mine opening, to gently capture any bats that fly out for the night. Several years ago, according to Fritsky, the traps yielded so many bats that the biologists had to hustle just to count, identify and release them all.
Now, all they had to do was stand around and wait.
White nose syndrome is to blame for the decline at the Glen Lyon mine and every other site around the state. As recently as 2009, Turner said, the mine had an estimated bat population of 75,000.
Today, he said, it might be about 1,500. Most of those are little brown bats. The rarer northern long-eared and Indiana bats are all but gone, Turner surmised.
The Glen Lyon site isn't the only location to experience a sharp decline in bats. Turner provided a list, and the declines are staggering.
Long Run Mine in Armstrong County once had an estimated bat population of 90,000. Turner and his crew used to trap 3,000 bats a night. Earlier this month they trapped it again.
They caught 10.
A limestone mine in Lawrence County had an estimated population of 35,000. Today Turner puts that figure at eight.
A mine near the Ohio border held a population of 40,000 bats. Two years ago, according to Turner, the fungus that causes white nose syndrome appeared, and today the site is down to 125.
Another mien in Hanover Township, Luzerne County has no bats today. Just a few years ago population estimates reached as high as 75,000.
"It's pretty damn shocking," Turner said. "The worst part, by far, is going back to these sites just two years after white nose hits and the bats are all gone. It's the same story at every site."
It's a story that I hope will change.
In my opinion, bats aren't becoming threatened or endangered.
They're becoming extinct.
The numbers don't lie.