Monday, June 07, 2010

State and federal agencies closing caves to slow the spread of bat-killing disease

We've been following the spread of the mysterious white-nose syndrome affecting bat populations across the eastern U.S., most recently here, and now state and federal agencies across the country are closing caves in hopes of stopping the spread. "Wildlife agencies in 17 states have issued cave closings, saying that people may be contributing to the spread of the disease by tracking the fungus on shoes and other equipment," Oren Dorell of USA Today reports. "Caves are popular destinations for Boy Scouts, mineral clubs and 'cave junkies' who try to visit as many caves as possible in one day."

The disease was first detected in Upstate New York in 2006 and has been detected as far south as Virginia and as far west as Missouri. "Caver Peter Haberland, of New York, said caving groups should not object to the closings," Dorell writes. "For a period of a year, most people can deal with that," he said. Peter Youngbaer of the National Speleological Society, a group of cave enthusiasts, told Dorell that widespread cave closings are counterproductive because organized cavers who get the message may follow the ban, but casual cavers are "not in the loop."

NSS "says that bats are spreading the disease on their own and that closing caves prevents responsible cavers from learning more about the disease," Dorell writes. Jeremy Coleman, the national white-nose coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, told Dorell while no one has found proof that people are spreading the disease, "nobody has been able to prove they haven't." Despite closings in some states, the disease has been found in New York, New England, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri and most recently in western Oklahoma. (Read more)

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