Tree cutters work quickly before bats leave hibernation in Somerset County
A small bat with mouse-like ears has crews working quickly to clear trees in preparation for an 11-mile, four-lane extension of Route 219 in Somerset County.
Two tree-cutting services have about six weeks to prepare 249 acres of a wooded area for the road construction. Their goal is to complete the work before Indiana bats, an endangered species, come out of hibernation to nest and roost in the trees.
“You can't disrupt their home if their home's not there,” said Ryan Beeghly, a partner in Beeghly Tree Service in Somerset.
Insect-eating Indiana bats typically come out of hibernation in the spring when they find homes in wooded areas. The endangered species is common to Pennsylvania and its habitat extends west to Missouri.
The tree clearing is an inaugural step in completing the Route 219 extension, which will connect Somerset to Meyersdale. Construction is expected to begin this summer and the goal for completion is fall 2017, according to Greg Illig, PennDOT project manager.
The project is being funded by a federal reserve associated with the completion of the Appalachian Highway Development System, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg.
Crews from K.W. Reese, Inc. of Mercersburg and Beeghly Tree Service began clearing trees Friday morning. The late March deadline will ensure work is completed before the bats emerge.
“That's the reason the state is doing it the way they're doing it,” Beeghly said.
K.W. Reese crews are clearing 147 acres while Beeghly Tree Service workers will take care of the remaining 102 acres. K.W. Reese project manager Daryl Booher said splitting the project into two portions will help the two companies get the work done on time.
“We knew we couldn't do it all in the time frame we were allotted,” Booher said.
Both companies are felling the trees and leaving them on the ground.
“It is a rather large area,” Illig said.
Indiana bats have played a role in other area construction projects.
In November, the Armstrong School District in Armstrong County approved donating $61,800 to the Indiana Bat Conservation Fund after officials learned that proposed high school construction would encroach on bat territory.
In October 2011, Duke Energy shut down nighttime operations at its wind farm after an Indiana bat carcass was found at the site in September.
Indiana bats were listed as endangered in 1967.
Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.