Miners from Cowin & Company of Birmingham, Alabama, in the early stages of drilling and blasting the new “bat cave”
O&G’s New Milford quarry provides an ecologically important home to a vigorous population of bats who overwinter here. These large brown bats – named for their foot-wide wingspans – have been largely untouched by the deadly “white-nose syndrome” fungus that has been wiping out large swaths of them as they hibernate in the winter.
Bats have used a defunct tunnel in a rocky hillside inside the quarry for decades. According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, it may be the only such disease-free haven in the state. So as the company’s mining operations slowly work their way to the site (they won’t reach the tunnel for ten or more years), O&G took the initiative to create a replacement habitat well ahead of the need.
Says Director of Planning and Permits Ken Faroni. “We believe the sooner we build a new cave the sooner the bats will discover it.” O&G hired an engineering consultant to create a design suited to this species, taking into consideration humidity, temperature, air circulation and other factors. It took miners about four weeks to complete the tunnel and chamber, called a “hibernaculum.” They finished in late July.
The new habitat is a 40-foot-long tunnel in the limestone, six feet high and seven feet wide, that runs to an underground chamber 17 feet wide, 10 feet deep and 15 feet high.
Jenny Dickson is Supervising Biologist in DEEP’s Wildlife Division. She understands the importance of this project to protect the bats who overwinter there. “What O&G is doing is critically important to conservation of numerous bat species as they try to recover from the syndrome.”
Also, by avoiding the old tunnel for an extended period while creating this new hibernaculum, Dickson says O&G has been doing a lot to protect the quarry’s bat population. “It’s a tremendous help for us and our conservation efforts for species that are declining as fast as our bats are to have a partner like O&G step up and help,” she says. The new hibernaculum will exist in perpetuity – a fact that delights Dickson.