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HARRISBURG — The Board of Game commissioners on Tuesday took preliminary action to update the state’s list of threatened and endangered species, which includes downgrading three protected cave bat species and reclassifying them as state endangered species.

The three bat species, all of which have been decimated by white-nose syndrome since it appeared in Pennsylvania in 2008, are the northern long-eared bat, tri-colored bat and little brown bat.

Additionally, the board voted preliminarily to upgrade the peregrine falcon’s status from endangered to threatened; upgrade the piping plover from extirpated to endangered, and list the red knot — a federally threatened species — as a threatened species within Pennsylvania, as well.

The northern long-eared bat was listed as a federal threatened species in April 2015. In addition, tri-colored bats and little brown bats currently are being considered for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

A state listing allows for the Game Commission to work with industry that might have projects affected by the presence of endangered or threatened species. While projects will continue to be reviewed by the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI), regarding bats, the proposal would affect projects only if they’re within 300 meters of a recent maternity roost,  hibernacula or capture location for threatened or endangered bats. Sites that held these bats prior to the arrival of white-nose syndrome, but not since, won’t affect projects.

If the preliminarily approved measure is adopted, 34 new hibernation sites and 112 maternity sites statewide would be added into the PNDI.

Through a state-endangered listing, the Game Commission will coordinate with developers to resolve conflicts, pointed out Dan Brauning, Game Commission wildlife diversity division chief. For little brown and tri-colored bats, the Game Commission will be the lead agency in determining potential impacts. However, for northern long-eared bats, coordination by both the Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be necessary.

“These cave bats teeter on the brink of state extirpation; extinction is not yet out of the question,” Brauning noted. “Their need for additional protections is obvious and overdue. For the Game Commission to do anything less would be recklessly irresponsible.”

The Game Commission had moved to list these bats in 2012, but concerns about unnecessary oversight and job loss heard from representatives of timber, oil, coal and gas industries and legislators prompted additional discussion.

“The Game Commission strives to work whenever possible with industry, to save jobs, and be a part of sound state government,” emphasized agency Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “But we cannot look the other way as bats tumble toward extinction. This agency has statutory and state constitutional commitments to represent and conserve all wildlife for today and tomorrow.”

Because bats have lost upward of 97 percent of their historic populations in Pennsylvania, every remaining bat matters, Brauning said.

What works against these cave bats is their annual reproduction provides limited replacement. Most female cave bats have one pup per year, a rate that would place their potential recovery more than a century away.

There’s no doubt a state-endangered listing of these cave bat species will require the implementation of additional protective measures. But given the mammoth collapse of these winged mammals, there’s no doubt they need more help; the sooner, the better.

But some of the proposals for status change represent better news.

The peregrine falcon has seen a steady statewide recovery, which qualifies its status to be upgraded to threatened under the agency’s Peregrine Falcon Management Plan.

Upgrading the piping plover’s status to endangered recognizes its return to breeding in Pennsylvania. After more than 60 years of absence, piping plover pairs successfully nested at Presque Isle State Park in 2017 and 2018.

And changing the status of the red knot — a rare migrant bird found in Pennsylvania mostly at Presque Isle State Park — recognizes its vulnerability to further declines.

The status changes will be brought back to the January meeting for a final vote.

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