Environmental Consulting on Bats during Project Planning and Development

On November 6, 2018, staff from the Harrisburg Office of ASC Group attended a presentation by Ryan Leiberher (RK&K) who discussed bat science and surveying techniques, White Nose Syndrome, Threatened and Endangered Species (T&E) coordination, and how these relate to transportation project planning and development. The luncheon was held at the Radisson, Camp Hill and was hosted by the Women Transportation Seminar (WTS), Central PA, the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Professionals (PAEP), and the Society of Women Environmental Professionals (SWEP).

Threatened & Endangered Species

Project development should avoid, minimize, or relocate bats as other animals and natural resources of concern. Favorable conditions include possible colony sightings or flights, more dependent evidence of guano and urine staining, around expansion joints, cracks, riprap, or pier caps. The bats found in Pennsylvania are the Red bat, Hoary bat, Silver-Haired bat, Big Brown bat, Small-footed bat, Little Brown bat, E. pipistrelle or Tricolor bat, Indiana bat, and the Northern long-eared bat. The primary agencies in PA that involve bat protection is the Game Commission and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Region 5 is headquartered in Massachusetts and the local field office is in State College, PA. They take the lead on T&E species, primarily the Indiana bat and the Northern long-eared bat. Other proposed listings as PA endangered, the Northern long-eared bat (like the federal one), Tricolor bat, and the Little Brown bat. PA Natural Diversity Index (PNDI) [PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources] hits are based on-site findings. Recently proposed (and shelved) new listings from the Game Commission would roughly include 30 hibernacula, 120 maternity sites added to PNDI, and T&E screening.

Focus on Indiana Bats

Though Indiana bats are low in numbers, the populations do scatter to parts of the state. North and south of Pittsburgh, the Laurel Highlands, northeast to State College, south of Carlisle, and northeast to Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. These areas are generally west, on, and east of the Appalachian Mountains in hardwood forests where trees are mature enough to supply the habitat needs of the Indiana bat. They like Shagbark Hickory and other trees with roosting potential. Females are banded on the left and the males are banded on the right

Case Study: Indiana Bat Habitat Surveys, North Point Development, Luzerne Count

This presentation is timely as ASC Group (Harrisburg) has been collaborating with Alfred Benesch and Company (Allentown), and Bat Conservation and Management, Inc. (Carlisle) on Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) habitat surveys within the proposed North Point Development-Hanover Site located in Hanover Township and adjacent to the City of Nanticoke, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The purpose of this survey was to evaluate the forested stands within the project area and to determine its overall quality as Indiana bat habitat. ASC Group had conducted wetland delineations and other environmental evaluations at the property in 2017 and early 2018.

Defining Site Conditions

The site is approximately one mile south of the Susquehanna River on the eastern border of the City of Nanticoke and west of State Route 29. The proposed project includes the construction of warehouses, associated driveways, and parking in the southern portion of the site. Preliminary plans indicate development on approximately one-quarter (approximately 125 acres) of the site. The site was historically used as a strip mine and mine dump area. Current land uses include an Abandoned Mine Drainage (AMD) treatment facility and staging and dump areas for ongoing highway construction in the area. The remaining portions of the site are forested hillsides and herbaceous fields.

Defining the Quality of Indiana Bat Habitat

According to the USFWS Pennsylvania Field Office protocol: Indiana Bat Habitat Assessment-Draft 2, High-Quality Forested Habitat is forested land with a minimum of six-hardwood trees ≥ 18 inches in Diameter at Breast Height (DBH) per acre, with at least four of those trees being high-value Indiana bat roost tree species and a minimum total basal area for the stand of 30 square feet (ft2) per acre or more. Marginal Quality Forested Habitat is forested land that does not meet the requirements for High-Quality Forested Habitat.

Summary of Findings for Identified Stands

Mixed Stand 1 – Red pine (Pinus resinosa) was the dominant tree species and scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) was the sub-dominant species. Mixed Stand 2 – Big-tooth aspen (Populus grandidentata) was the dominant tree species and Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) replaced Hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) as the sub-dominant species after the data from the two new plots was incorporated into the stand data. Deciduous Stand 1 – Red maple (acer rubrum) was the dominant tree species within Deciduous Stand 1 and sweet birch (Betula lenta) was the sub-dominant species. Based on the criteria within the USFWS assessment protocol Deciduous Stand 1 was delineated as High-Quality Indiana bat summer habitat and both Mixed Stands 1 and 2 were delineated as Marginal Quality Forested Habitat.

By Scott Alexander, Environmental Specialist, ASC Group, Harrisburg, PA

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