TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Features

June 1, 2012

Grants announced to investigate white-nose syndrome

CORBIN — By Carl Keith Greene / Staff Writer

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to investigate the white-nose syndrome (WNS) in bats has announced seven grants totalling about $1.4 million.

The grants will also identify ways to manage it.

The disease has killed more than 5.5 million hibernating bats in eastern North America. It was discovered near Albany, N.Y. in 2006.

Corbin caver Thor H. Bahrman III explained about the problems of bats in caves and unused coal mines.

Appearance of the fungus has been detected in Kentucky’s Breckinridge, Wayne and Trigg counties.

“It’s not how many caves and mines have bats with white noses, it’s how many have been detected. And to be white-nose positive, doesn’t mean that the fungus that causes it is or is not in there. It means it’s been detected in the past,” Bahrman said.

In Kentucky, the USDA Forest Service has responded to the continued spread of WNS.

Effective Wednesday, the service renewed its order to close all caves and abandoned mines on national forest lands in the southern region of the United State

The disease can be expected to spread into caves and abandoned mines within the Daniel Boone National Forest.

Now the caves and mines will remain closed unless posted as open. Only rescue efforts and other authorized activities are permitted.

White-nose syndrome is named for the fungus that is seen on the faces, ears, wings and feet of hibernating bats.

It affects the animals during hibernation. It awakens them and depletes energy reserves needed until they can emerge in the spring to feed.

It was discovered in February 2006 in Schoharie County, N.Y. It continued to be confirmed from 2007 through this year as it moved on migration routes along the Appalachians as far north as Maine and into Canada, as far south as Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio, and as far west as Missouri on the Mississippi River across from Illinois.

According to scientists the WNS spreads bat-to-bat while clustering in caves and mines.

But, they say, once a bat colony is infected, the syndrome can kill more than 90 percent of the bats in a cave in just two years.

WNS is likely to be transferred from a location to another in the clothing and footwear of humans.

Abandoned closures on national forest lands are expected to help limit the spread.

WNS is not known to cause human illness. But, unnecessary exposure to the fungus is not recommended.

The fungus Geomyces destrucans is what causes the disease, while the actual cause of death is unknown.

In the caves and mines the bats become restless, moving about the cave and burning fat reserves or losing body water they need to survive in the winter. There is no known cure for the disease.

Employees of the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have worked together on local surveillance and monitoring of the disease since it was found.

“By having a state white-nose syndrome response plan in place, it has allowed us to coordinate surveillance” of the bats in the caves and mines, said Brooke Hines, state bat ecologist. “Local grottos (caving clubs) have been a tremendous help with this endeavor.”

“A cold moist habitat is loved by Geomyces, so habitat of a cave or abandoned mine is the perfect habitat for this fungus,” said Bahrman.

“Cavers are into organized caving, we have certain guidelines that we follow. We are kind of self-policing. The general public doesn’t follow these things,” he said, explaining that cavers are trained to carry extra equipment when going into a cave. For example, the public may carry only one flashlight, while the cavers carry three and they go into caves with no less than three people.

The public often goes into caves without training and doesn’t know how to limit themselves, he said.

The cavers when leaving a cave decontaminate their equipment before taking it into another cave, he added.

That is according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulations, he said.

The local caving group is called Pine Mountain Grotto. It has gone out to survey as to how bats are affected, and in the summer work with audio equipment to get a bat count to see if the numbers are rising or falling, or staying steady, he said.

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