For Immediate Release, August 23, 2010
Contact: Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 434-2388 (office); (802) 318-1487 (cell)
Bureau of Land Management Moves to Protect Western Bats From Deadly Disease,
But Bat Advocates Say Stricter Measures Needed
RICHMOND, Vt.— The Bureau of Land Management is recommending targeted cave closures and other measures to stem the spread of a bat-killing disease, after a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity earlier this year sought closure of all bat caves on federal lands in the lower 48 states. The Center applauded the BLM’s new national policy to deal with the lethal malady, known as white-nose syndrome, but said it doesn’t go far enough to protect bats from the fast-spreading disease, which scientists believe may drive several bat species to extinction within a few years.
“Western land managers are finally waking up to the overwhelming threat of white-nose syndrome to bats, but this devastating disease simply will not allow the luxury of half measures,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate with the Center. “If the BLM is serious about protecting bats, then it needs to restrict access in all caves with bats.”
The BLM’s action comes a month after the U.S. Forest Service ordered the closure of all caves on national forests and grasslands in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, and most of Wyoming and South Dakota. The Forest Service acted after the fungus associated with white-nose syndrome was found on a bat in western Oklahoma this spring. The BLM has jurisdiction over 253 million acres of federal land, almost all of it in the West, and manages thousands of caves and mines, many of which are used by bats for hibernation and roosting.
Land managers nationwide have been waiting for more than a year for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to finalize a white-nose syndrome national response plan, which is intended to include specific recommendations on how government agencies should prepare for and respond to the bat disease. In the absence of this direction from the nation’s lead wildlife agency, land-management agencies such as the BLM and the Forest Service appear to be crafting their own policies to respond to the disease, which has caused mortality rates as high as 100 percent in some bat caves.
White-nose syndrome first appeared in the Northeast in 2006 and has since spread westward in a broad swath, leaving decimated bat populations in its wake. Six bat species have seen lethal effects so far, including several that have been nearly wiped out in Vermont, New York and other eastern states. Three other species have been spotted with the fungus on them but no dead individuals have been detected yet.
The fungus attacks bats in winter while they are hibernating in caves and mines. It grows on their muzzles and wings and appears to cause them to rouse frequently, which ultimately leads to starvation and death. Biologists believe that bats get the disease from direct contact with each other and with fungus in cave soils. Humans have likely inadvertently transmitted the fungus from cave to cave as well, scientists say. Decontamination of clothing and caving gear is only partially successful at killing the fungus.
“Here in the Northeast, most of our bats are gone. If westerners don’t want their bats to meet the same fate, they need to act fast and use what we now know about the disease to slow it down. Stopping human transmission is one big step toward doing that,” said Matteson.
The Forest Service closed caves in its eastern and southern regions to recreational access over a year ago, and some National Park Service and state-owned caves in the East have also been closed as a result of the bat illness.
The BLM’s “Instruction Memorandum” and “White-Nose Syndrome Interim Response Strategy” can be found here.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.