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Why a Bat?

As many of my readers probably already know I am also a wildlife artist and illustrator. As a wildlife artist, I have painted and sketched quite a variety of critters like our commonly seen deer, turkeys, bears, and songbirds. My wildlife art has taken me to some interesting, maybe even strange places like black bear dens and diving with manatees in Florida and even into the depths of Loch Ness in Scotland. More recently however I have been charged with producing a painting of a little brown bat for an upcoming cover of Game News Magazine-a first for me, and the first time a bat will ever grace the cover of Game News.

Why a bat? Well, as many of you already know bats are in a serious decline in our state. Yes, I’m aware that bats are not exactly cherished by many and detested by others. Remember however that while you may not enjoy bats swooping near your head while sitting around the campfire, they do indeed consume large numbers of insects; that includes mosquitoes by the way. If you tried to enjoy camping along the river this past summer you know what I mean — the mosquitoes were having a hay day gorging on us human smorgasbords. While the lack of bats may have contributed to the “mosquito epidemic” it’s probably also true that frequent rains and flooding also contributed to the unusually high numbers of mosquitoes. Truth is, bats are a resource that needs and deserves our protection.

There are three species of bats in Pennsylvania that are in serious trouble and may be getting some new protection. Populations of these species have declined by nearly 99 percent since 2008 with the little brown bat suffering the most. The problem, of course, is a condition known as white-nose syndrome; a fungal disease that interrupts the bat’s hibernation causing them to wake-up and burn more fat reserves too fast and ultimately leads to their death.

Because of the severity of the situation, the Game Commission is seeking to place the bats into the into the most protected status of endangered. OK, so what’s the big deal? When a species falls into a highly protected status, certain activities are limited where the bats occur. In 2012 such an effort died when the timber, oil, gas and coal industries pressured the commission not to take action. If it looks like an industry may impact a protected species adversely the commission and other agencies may have a say as to whether a project can go forward.

The commission is again looking at moving towards greater protection for the declining bats but with some limitations. The Game Commission would like to focus on places where they know bats still occur such as bat roosts, hibernacula or capture locations; commercial activity would be limited within certain distances of such locations. Even if the new protection goes into action, it would likely be some time before we see an increase in the bat population.

We’ll have to wait and see where all of this goes so in the meantime enjoy the campfire but don’t forget the mosquito repellent. Oh yea, if any of you guys are looking for a great Christmas gift for your wife next year how about a painting of a brown bat- she will love it and it would look great on the living-room wall.

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