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," says 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 says. "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."
The Service's cave advisory is available here.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. Both a leader and a trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, the service is known for its scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information about the service’s work and the people who make it happen, visit the website.