With a 99% decline in Pa. bat populations, this local nursery is working to enhance conservation efforts

November 15, 2019
In The News

With the Pennsylvania bat population threatened, Howard Nursery is making more bat boxes than ever before. On Saturday, the nursery will host an event to promote conservation of these “good neighbors.”

At 1:30 p.m., the nursery, joined by U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, will install a bat house — a chambered box that mimics the crevices in trees or caves where bats like to roost — on its grounds at 197 Nursery Road. These houses provide bats with a place to hibernate and have their young.

“I think (the event) is timely,” Brian Stone, nursery manager, said. “There’s a definite need for bat conservation at this point, and I am aware that we have a bat population here, and I’m pleased to be able to help support that population.”

Among the nearly 40 bat species living in the United States, eight are commonly found in Pennsylvania; however, many have decimated as a result of white-nose syndrome — a fungal disease that affects hibernating bats that surfaced in Pennsylvania during 2008According to Mario Giazzon, a Pennsylvania Game Commission wildlife diversity biologist, white nose syndrome has led to a 99% decrease in bat populations.

Earlier this year, the northern long-eared battri-colored bat and little brown bat joined the Indiana bat and small-footed bat on the state’s list of threatened and endangered species.

“Bats play an important role in native ecosystems by pollinating plants, dispersing seeds and eating agricultural pests that destroy crops and harm the economy,” U.S. Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement. “Unfortunately, white-nose syndrome is destroying native bat populations at unprecedented rates.”

Bats assist in keeping insect populations under control. A single bat could consume as many as 2,000 insects each night, Penn State Extension reports. Because insects are not as active in the winter, bats either hibernate or migrate to survive the cold. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that bats save farmers at least $3.7 billion in pest control services each year.

In the spring, pregnant females seek sheltered roosts for their pups in buildings and tree foliage. In some species, females gather together and form maternity colonies. Bat houses are often occupied by colonies — primarily female little brown and big brown bats and their young — according to the state Game Commission.

The Howard Nursery builds bat houses and other wildlife shelters for residents and the game commission. This year, Stone said the nursery has helped make 195 boxes, an increase from last year’s 42.

“We produce all the wood products for the game commission here at the nursery,” Stone said. “Because of the sensitivity of the bat population, we made the decision here at the nursery to produce more bat boxes than we ever have before. We do them as close to cost as possible, but the point is not to make a huge profit on these boxes. The point is to get them into the hands of the public as quick as possible.”

Describing Saturday’s event as “meaningful,” Stone said he thinks the increase in demand for bat houses makes him optimistic about conservation efforts in Centre County and throughout the state.

“In recent years, we have seen negative impacts on bat populations due to the spread of white nose syndrome, which has decimated some species in Pennsylvania,” Thompson said in a statement. “Encouraging commonsense conservation practices will help protect colonies, allow their numbers to recover, and ultimately keep these bats off the endangered species list.”

Biologists are unsure what causes white nose syndrome; however, they do know the fungus thrives in cold, damp places — like the caves in which bats hibernate. Most research on the disease has been conducted by the United State National Response to White Nose Syndrome, an agency led by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Last month, the federal agency announced a $100,000 challenge to encourage people to brainstorm innovative ways to weaken and eradicate the disease.