White-nose syndrome, a wildlife crisis of unprecedented proportions, has killed hundreds of thousands of bats from Vermont to West Virginia and continues unchecked. Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking those who use caves where bats hibernate – called hibernacula – to take extra precautions and to curtail activities to help prevent the spread of WNS.
There is no known human health risk associated with white-nose syndrome in bats. While the actual cause of WNS is unknown, scientists are reasonably certain that WNS is transmitted from bat-to-bat. However, WNS has been found in caves a significant distance from WNS-affected hibernacula, leading scientists to believe that something else is moving WNS.
“We suspect that white-nose syndrome may be transmitted by humans inadvertently carrying WNS from cave to cave where bats hibernate,” said Northeast Regional Director Marvin Moriarty of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Service’s cave advisory asks that cavers curtail all caving activity in WNS-affected states and adjoining states to protect bats from the spread of WNS. The advisory also asks that cavers beyond WNS-affected states and adjacent states use clothing and gear that has never been in affected and adjacent states. And finally, cavers everywhere should avoid caves and mines during the bat hibernation period (winter) to avoid disturbing bats.
In addition, federal and state scientists will evaluate all scientific activities in hibernacula for their potential to spread WNS, weighing potential benefits of the research against the risk to bats.
“We are working closely with state natural resource agencies, the caving community, conservation organizations and other federal agencies on this issue,” Moriarty said. “We understand that following these recommendations will inconvenience recreational cavers, but we believe this is the most responsible course of action as we face this unknown threat to bats, which play an important role in our world.”
As a result of this advisory and ongoing research activities, refuge managers at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge Complex near Decatur, Alabama, have closed four caves – Fern Cave, Sauta Cave, Cave Springs Cave, and Key Cave – located within this Comlex to public access. Access to Fern and Sauta Caves are normally managed through permits. Key and Cave Springs Caves are already closed.
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