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Frye: Wondering what to do about bats

| Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

This is a conservation crisis, perhaps the greatest of the past few decades.

But what to do about it?

Up to 99 percent of Pennsylvania's cave-dwelling bats have disappeared since 2009, victims of a fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome.

If the remaining populations wink out, expect to see ripples in the ecosystem, including dramatic increases in mosquitoes, experts say.

The situation is so dire that some have called for the state to list some species of bats as endangered.

That sounds like a good idea at first blush, said Pennsylvania Game Commissioner Dave Putnam. But listing the bats would do little to actually save them, he said.

Real action is needed, he said. So last week in Delmont, he gave commission staff a directive, telling executive director Carl Roe to report back in 30 days on what the commission might do to help populations.

Putnam pledged if the agency needs to move money around within its budget to make things happen, the board would do it.

“I'm interested in anything that can change the final trajectory of these bats,” he said.

Commissioner Brian Hoover of Delaware County said the commission needs a sense of urgency.

“If we don't make a move within the next two years, we're not going to have any bats,” Hoover said.

• It's a sign of the times.

Game Commission meetings have always attracted people passionate about the outdoors. They often drive for hours to speak for the maximum five minutes, and they usually preface their remarks by noting that they've been a hunter or trapper for decades, carrying on a family tradition.

What's different now in this era of rare-but-highly visible mass shootings, is that one or more armed wildlife conservation officers are on duty at all commission meetings.

The commission quietly instituted that change a while back as a safety measure.

People are starting to notice, too. One gentleman at last week's meeting was visibly upset about what he termed the lack of attention paid to predators for the sake of pheasants and pheasant hunters.

He walked out of the meeting after having his say, but not before saying, “I'll be back.”

He never returned, but that comment had several people murmuring about his intentions. At least a few said they felt safer knowing there were armed officers on hand.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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