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Concern over endangered bat expedites gas driller's tree cutting plans

A hibernating endangered bat is helping a gas drilling company chop down trees on private land in Beaver County, thanks to a judge's ruling.

The trees, being cut today according to an attorney in the case, are on private land in Darlington that is the subject of federal and county court cases over drilling rights that Chesapeake Energy Corp. acquired in 2005, according to court filings.

The company and landowners have been locked in a legal battle, with the landowners claiming in county court that they were deceived into signing the leases Chesapeake now holds. Those landowners denied the company access to start work, leading Oklahoma-based Chesapeake to file for federal court protections. They both filed court complaints Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge David Cercone today placed a restraining order on the landowners trying to block company workers, saying Chesapeake would be irreparably harmed without access to the land. But the judge said tree clearing has to be done by Saturday or wait until Nov. 1 to avoid disturbing the habitat of the Indiana bat while it is out of hibernation.

The company, through its subsidiary Chesapeake Appalachia, had argued it needed to start clearing trees by Wednesday in order to finish before the federal deadline Saturday. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibits timbering in the area for six months through November because to protect the species' hibernation habitat.

Despite the shortened timetable, the company started timbering today when it received the federal court order, said Steven C. Townsend, lawyer for the landowners.

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