CNX Assisting with Cave Identification, Ventilation and Bat Box Installation To Combat White Nose Syndrome and Related Bat Die-Off
The innovation and technology applied to protecting and increasing Pennsylvania’s bat population reflect CNX’s Appalachia First commitment to the health and vitality of the local communities where we live and work.
April 25, 2023
Bats get a bad rap, but as a species they are critical to the health of our ecosystem. They serve as natural pest control, consuming their body weight in insects every night, and many species provide crucial pollination and seed dispersal. Over the last 15 years, however, hundreds of bat species have been decimated due to white nose syndrome, a fungal disease first identified in 2006. The syndrome is responsible for the loss of millions of bats across North America.
“It’s hard to imagine, but because of this multi-specie die-off, ecosystems are already falling out of balance,” said Dan Bitz, the surface strategies Director on CNX’s New Technologies team. “The extreme loss of bats that has already occurred is affecting our daily lives, via overpopulation of insects and the harm they bring.”
Over the last several years, CNX has been collaborating with the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) to combat white nose fungus where it’s believed it begins—in the areas where bats hibernate. The PGC and their non-game mammal biologist, Greg Turner, have embraced innovation and technology to help prevent the extinction of multiple bat species from white nose syndrome. Research projects have demonstrated that lowering the temperature in bat hibernation sites can result in reduced mortality from white nose syndrome.
The PGC has worked systematically to improve both manmade and naturally occurring bat hibernation sites throughout the state. The hope is that these mitigation efforts will help reduce white nose syndrome and inspire other states to take similar action, ultimately contributing to the rebuilding of bat populations.
With an unparalleled breadth and depth of knowledge about the landscape and geography of the region, CNX joined forces with PGC to provide some financial, technical and project management support for two different cave projects within abandoned limestone mines in Fayette County. Through the first project, Casparis Mine, CNX and PGC worked with a consulting organization to provide 3D mapping services for the project, which showed the full extent of the mine. From there, they worked with an air ventilation engineer to identify a location to drill a large vent, allowing warmer air to escape the mine. CNX then oversaw the operations and drilling of the vent.
The goal for the second mine, the Dunbar mine, was to fill a preexisting sinkhole, install a large vent pipe for airflow, make it bat (and human) accessible and install an additional vent. The needs for this project ranged from additional 3D mapping, developing a venting plan, hiring a contractor and coordinating project management and construction.
“Our goal with both of these projects is that the resulting temperature reduction will allow hibernating bats a stronger chance to survive while attracting additional bats to these safe winter roosts,” said Bitz.
In addition to the PGC projects, CNX supports the installation of bat houses in local communities, and has coordinated an annual outreach program. CNX is in the fourth year of the bat box community program, which aims to install bat houses in local communities, where forested areas are often more limited. Each PGC bat house installed, which utilizes a seven-chamber plan designed and endorsed by the PGC, can accommodate several hundred bats. For the 2023 program, CNX is partnering with Peters Township High School to install boxes on their campus, with installations planned for May 15th.