National Forests close caves over bat disease

Management, timber harvest, roadless issues

National Forests close caves over bat disease

Postby Todd » Fri May 22, 2009 12:05 pm

National Forests close caves over bat disease

Half-million die amid spread of mysterious ailment
By Morgan Simmons (Contact)

Friday, May 22, 2009

National Forests throughout the Southeastern U.S. - including the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee - have closed most of their caves and mines because of the spread of a mysterious disease that already has killed an estimated half-million bats.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park took similar action a month ago when it closed 17 caves and two mining complexes to the public in response to recommendations issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The cave closure on Southeastern national forests will be in effect for one year while scientists and land managers study the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome. The disease gets its name from the white fungus that appears on the face of many of the dead bats.

So far, white-nose syndrome has hit hardest in the Northeast.

The Cherokee National Forest covers 635,000 acres in East Tennessee's Appalachian Mountains north and south of the Smokies. There are nine small limestone caves and 20 mine openings, most of which are used to some degree by bats.

Biologists estimated that at least three of the caves are used by gray bats, Rafinesque big-eared bats and small-footed bats - species listed as federally endangered or sensitive.

None of the caves in the Cherokee National Forest is known to hold large concentrations of bats.

None of the caves in the Smokies or in the Cherokee National Forest is confirmed to have white-nose syndrome. The fungus is believed to be transmitted from bat to bat. Bats afflicted with the malady lose weight and leave the cave early in search of food. Since the insects they normally eat are unavailable, the bats starve.

It's also believed that humans may spread the fungus when they travel from cave to cave because white-nose syndrome has been found a significant distance from where the nearest infected bats hibernate.

Once a bat colony is infected, as much as 90 percent of the population may die. Bats eat 50 percent to 100 percent of their weight in insects each night, so developing a solution to white-nose syndrome is vital to agriculture and to ecosystems in general.

On June 29, leading experts in the field of bat physiology, fungal ecology, and other disciplines will hold a weekend workshop in Knoxville at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis to explore the disease and to develop solutions for managing it.

The workshop is organized by the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Tennessee. ... t-disease/
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