A view of people from inside of a cave.
Hartman's Cave Hartman's Cave is located within Pennsylvania's Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge. © The Nature Conservancy/George C. Gress

Places We Protect

Hartman's Cave

Pennsylvania

Hartman's Cave is located within the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Nearly one thousand species live exclusively in caves within the lower 48 states. Conserving these complex subterranean ecosystems represents important work since they serve as a bridge between forested habitats located above ground and groundwater resources found below.

Located in Pennsylvania’s Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Hartman’s Cave is a hibernaculum for several species of bats. It is also the site of archaeological discoveries from the late 1800s that, during excavation, unveiled remnants of eastern woodrat and timber rattlesnake (which no longer inhabit the cave or surrounding area) and signs much older species including long nosed peccary and giant beaver.

What’s At Stake

Caves often host rare species that may occur in only one region, or even only in one cave. Little is known about many cave dwelling species, including a variety of crustaceans, insects and arachnids. 

Since 1996, The Nature Conservancy and partners--including the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) and members of the local caving community--began surveying four species of bats including big and little brown bats, tri-colored bats and northern long eared bats. Historic records indicate that Indiana bats also used the cave, but surveys have not accounted for any to date.

A steel gate is surrounded by big boulders.
Hartman's Cave A gate at Hartman's Cave serves as a way to protect bats from disturbance. © The Nature Conservancy/George C. Gress

White-Nose Syndrome

In 2010, TNC and the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) determined that bats in Hartman’s Cave appeared to have White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), an invasive fungus that has devastated bat populations in the eastern United States and Canada. Specifically, WNS damages the wings of cave-dwelling bats, causing them to wake more frequently during winter hibernation and exhaust critical stores of fat required to survive the season.

A small bat clings to a rock.
Bat A small bat clings to a rock in a Pennsylvania cave. © The Nature Conservancy/George C. Gress

Monitoring and Protecting Bats

In response to WNS, TNC installed a cave gate in 2006 and closed the Preserve and the surrounding 32 acres to public visitation. During winter, TNC works with partners to monitor bat populations and collect data to inform the progress and treatment of this disease. The partners normally conduct bat surveys about every two years.

While relatively small, there are indications that Hartman’s Cave is much larger than the portion that is accessible for research, exploration and mapping. Even though there are places within the cave that are inaccessable, consistent surveying still provides biologists and managers with valuable data on population trends and management needs. 

In recent years, data collected at Hartman's Cave indicates a slight rebound in bat populations, likely due to survivors who passed their more resistant genetics along to new generations. The cave remains closed to the public, and TNC continues to manage the surrounding property for conservation in order to protect as much as the life cycles for bats as possible.

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