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For Immediate Release, January 26, 2011

Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 434-2388 (office); (802) 318-1487 (cell)

Report: Federal Land Managers' Failure to Close Caves Leaves
Millions of Bats in West Vulnerable to Fast-moving, Deadly Disease

RICHMOND, Vt.— The Center for Biological Diversity released a report today finding that federal land managers in the western states are not taking sufficient action to ensure that the deadly white-nose syndrome does not spread westward from eastern states where it has already killed more than 1 million bats.

The Center today also sent letters to all the major federal public-land agencies — including the Department of the Interior, Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service — urging immediate, complete administrative closures of all caves and abandoned mines to stop the spread of white-nose syndrome by humans traveling from cave to cave.

“Bats, White-nose Syndrome, and Federal Cave and Mine Closures” reviews all cave-management policies of all federal land-management agencies. It concludes:

“Despite the fact that the main threat of human transmission of white-nose syndrome is transport of the disease into entirely new regions of the country, distant from current sites, land managers still act as if distance is protective, which is not the case.”

“Many western federal land managers are delaying action at the very time when action could be most meaningful and effective — in other words, before the bat disease reaches the West. Rather than delay closures of bat caves and mines until white-nose syndrome is closer to, or actually documented in, western states, federal land managers must move quickly to declare closures of all bat caves and abandoned mines, allowing access only for essential scientific research and safety purposes.”

White-nose syndrome, a deadly fungus, has already killed more than a million bats in the eastern United States. It is moving westward in what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has called the worst wildlife health crisis in memory.

“Federal land managers in the West need to enact emergency closures of caves and abandoned mines right away,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate at the Center. “Precautionary closure is the best tool we have for keeping this bat epidemic from leaping into an entirely new region of the country. Time is running out.”

White-nose syndrome first showed up in upstate New York in 2006 and has since spread throughout the eastern half of the United States. It has also been found in Ontario and Quebec. Two years ago, scientists estimated that more than a million bats had died. Since then bat mortality, spread among six different species, has continued to mount, reaching 100 percent in some Northeast bat colonies. Last spring, the white-nose pathogen was found on a bat in western Oklahoma.

“This dangerous, bat-killing disease is moving west. Federal land managers have a chance to limit the damage by closing caves, but that has yet to happen on a scale that will provide any meaningful protection for bats in the West,” said Matteson.

The Center’s report found that while federal public lands in the eastern United States are now largely off-limits to nonessential, unauthorized cave and mine access, the same is not true for the West. Other than national parks and the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. Forest Service, most bat caves and mines on western public lands remain open and vulnerable to the spread of white-nose syndrome.

In particular, Bureau of Land Management staff indicated that agency has no plans to enact blanket closures and no timeline for implementing even partial closures across most of the West.

Research has demonstrated that the fungal pathogen can live in cave soils and can be transported on clothing and gear into new sites. Strong evidence points to the probability that the fungus was originally transported to North America from Europe — where the fungus has been identified but does not affect bats — by people.


The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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