Caves, mines closed another year because of fungus that threatens bats
By Tegan Hanlon
A fungus has rapidly spread across the bat population east of Colorado, making their noses, ears, wings and feet white.
Aiming to slow the westward spread of the disease that has killed an estimated 5.5 million bats since 2006, the U.S. Forest Service has extended an emergency order restricting access to abandoned mines and caves in the Rocky Mountain region for another year. Caves and mines are common roosts for bats.
The disease has not been detected in Colorado, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Janelle Smith said. "Nor is there any suggestion that any bats have contracted the disease."
The order affects about 30,000 mines and hundreds of caves in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. The hope is that by limiting human access, the fungus — Geomyces destructans — won't hit the area that has yet to be infected.
The recent announcement marks the third time the closure has been extended since its July 2010 enactment. It does not affect privately-owned caves and members of the National Speleological Society and the Cave Research Foundation will be allowed to request permits to visit caves for research, scientific study, exploration and survey.
Steve Beckley, the owner of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, said he doesn't expect cave closures at the park, especially because the bat population is very small in the areas frequented by tourists.
"There's a lot of places that are not on tourist routes where the bats in the area can hang out in," Beckley said.
The fungus was first detected in New York during the winter of 2006. It has since spread as far west as Oklahoma.
Smith said that data on the disease shows that it has traveled distances surpassing that of bats' typical migratory patterns, leading researchers to believe humans have contributed to transmission.
White-nose syndrome causes bats to come out of hibernation early and underweight. With no insects available, they often starve to death.
"Once a colony is infected, it spreads rapidly and can kill over 90 percent of bats within the cave in just two years," a release from the forest service said.
Tegan Hanlon: 303-954-1729, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/teganhanlon
Copyright © 2012 The Denver Post.
This article originally appeared here.
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