Bat caves often bear scars of human presence.
It’s a problem that has vexed the Pennsylvania Game Commission for years.
The same caves that are important for bats as winter hibernation grounds also draw people. Some are cavers; others are vandals, litterbugs and kids having underage-drinking parties.
Wildlife conservation officers have long hit the sites periodically in an attempt to clean things up. Gates are sometimes even installed to prevent human entry.
In few cases have the problems ever gone away permanently.
Now, the commission is hoping it’s hit on something that might work better.
Tom Grohol, director of the bureau of wildlife protection, said the commission has placed cell phone-enabled remote control cameras around a number of cave entrances. They provide “around the clock protection” to the caves in the sense that officers can monitor activity around them and respond in a more timely fashion, he said.
The cameras were purchased with the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wildlife for Everyone Foundation and the Williams Co. They’ve been in place for less than a year, he said. Yet, already, problems have decreased.
“The word has gotten spread to these people that we have a presence there now,” Grohol said.
The commission identified more than 100 bat hibernacula around the state, and prioritized the most critically important from there. One the six getting the most attention is in Fayette County.
The need to protect cave-dwelling bats is real, said executive director Matt Hough.
In 2009, biologists first documented white-nose syndrome – a fungus that causes bats to wake up in mid-winter, leaving them without the reserves to survive until spring – in the state. In the years since, some species of bats have seen 99 percent declines in their populations, Hough said.
It’s critical the commission do what it can to protect the survivors, he added.
“Preventing these disturbances might mean the difference between our bats living or dying,” Hough said.