The Williams Pipeline Company recently donated $2,400 to the Game Commission to be used for camera-aided enforcement to protect bat caves from intrusions. The funds will go toward adding six new cameras in two new sites.
Currently, the Northeast Game Commission Region has two and the other five regions have one camera up and running in caves.
Cave bats in Pennsylvania have experienced dramatic losses since the onset of white-nose syndrome, a condition that causes bats to rouse during hibernation, burning the fat reserves they depend on to make it through winter and, ultimately, killing them.
Protecting bats where they are most vulnerable – the caves and mines where they hibernate – increases their chances of recovery, said Greg Turner, a bat biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission who is among those leading research into the disease.
White-nose syndrome is caused by a cold-loving fungus that contaminates the caves and abandoned mines where many bats hibernate and reproduce. At present, all of Pennsylvania's bat-hibernation sites are presumed to be contaminated with the fungus, and some bat species have experienced a 99-percent population decline, Turner said.
Although the disease has had devastating impacts, survivors remain, and continue to hibernate at these infected sites year after year.
Eliminating the chance these survivors are disturbed by people entering caves and mines for recreation could be the difference between life and death for bats, Turner said. Any disturbance that causes bats to rouse decreases their chances of surviving through the winter, he said.
The Game Commission for years has gone to lengths to keep people out of caves and mines that are important to hibernating bats.
Gates that are friendly to bats but restrict people from entering have been placed at cave entrances. Areas leading to caves have been posted "No Trespassing." And law-enforcement patrols near cave sites have been stepped up in an effort to catch trespassers.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent. Yet, intrusions continued, and in some areas, they still do.
More recently, however, a new tool became available to the Game Commission in addressing these continuing problems: Cameras, that not only can capture visual evidence of trespassing crimes at sensitive bat caves, but that send text messages to alert on-duty officers and radio dispatchers an intrusion is taking place.
David J. Putnam, president of the Board of Game Commissioners, said people have gone to extraordinary lengths to breach sites that have been fortified to protect bats. They have broken through locked gates, tunneled around them, cut through fences and ignored numerous signs instructing them to keep out of caves and mines.
The cameras work to address all of these problems, Putnam said, and increase the chances of survival for hibernating bats and their young. Most white-nose syndrome mortality occurs during hibernation, and disturbances can lead to higher mortality.
"Protecting Pennsylvania’s bats is a critical agency priority. Due to White Nose Syndrome, our bat populations have plummeted. We have undertaken many different tactics to help us protect bats, from increased law enforcement to protect bat hibernacula, to intensive research focused on helping us battle this disease. The use of high-tech remote cameras is another tool in our toolbox to protect our bat populations,” Putnam said.
Greg Turner said he was really happy with the additional cameras the donation will provide.
“Due to the severe declines in hibernating bats from the disease white-nose syndrome, and with the knowledge that the disease greatly reduces the fat supply the bats need to overwinter in caves, these cameras will help to enhance our agency’s ability to protect these vulnerable species from additional disturbances,” said Greg Turner.
One of Williams Company’s Core Values & Beliefs concepts is to serve as an exceptional neighbor in communities where employees live and their businesses operate.
“Williams has a dedicated team of Environmental and Compliance professionals who conduct extensive studies and work carefully to preserve and strengthen local habitats and ecosystems during the planning, construction, operational and maintenance phases of the energy infrastructure we build and own,” said Kristy Grigas, environmental regulatory specialist for Williams. “We regularly work with state and federal agencies as well as conservation partners to ensure that we are planning our projects with care.
“With this donation, Williams is helping to secure more of Pennsylvania's important habitat areas to ensure that caves and mines have 24-hour surveillance to protect hibernating bats against nuisance activity,” she said.
“With existing cameras paid for by the Game Commission and donations from other conservation agencies, and the additional cameras this generous contribution from Williams will provide, important bat sites statewide can be monitored in the same manner, and trespassing problems erased,” said R. Matthew Hough, executive director for the Game Commission. “The biggest benefit will be experienced by the state's bats, and the millions of Pennsylvanians, some of whom might not even realize all of what bats provide in controlling mosquitoes and other insects.
“The use of remote cameras has proven to work very well in protecting bat hibernacula during this critical time of the year. The donation from Williams Company will allow us to expand the use of remote cameras to give adequate protection to all regions of the state, and will provide additional protection to bat populations. It is always a pleasure to see partners, like Williams, step up to the plate to do their part to protect Pennsylvania’s wildlife resources,” said Hough.
Williams is an energy infrastructure company and provider of large-scale infrastructure connecting the growing supply of North American natural gas and natural-gas products to growing global demand for clean fuels and feedstocks. Williams owns, manages and operates natural gas pipelines within Pennsylvania.
Founded in 1908, Williams employs more than 6,700 people with a regional presence and a local office in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.For more information on cave bats, visit the Game Commission’s White-Nose Syndrome webpage.