Something different: White-nose syndrome of bats, and national forests

This hasn’t gotten huge attention in the West yet, but it will if and when (probably the latter) this wildlife disease arrives out here.  In the eastern U.S., this contagious fungal disease (first observed only a few years ago in New York and Vermont) has devastated several species of bats and obliterated some huge hibernating colonies, killing literally millions of bats. It has spread rapidly to westward and southward, and may be ready to make the leap to the Rockies. Federal and state wildlife folks are very worried about this disease, as they should be.

I’m not a bat expert by any means, but have been working on the epidemiology of this disease with colleagues from USFS and Idaho Fish & Game, both of whom are incredibly knowledgeable and devoted to the study and conservation of these animals.

We have a paper coming out later this month or next, on WNS epidemiology as it relates to potential spread of the pathogen in western bat populations, if anybody’s interested you can read the pre-publication which I have posted here:  (hopefully the journal won’t mind).

I presented some of this work at the national WNS workshop in Boise last month, sponsored by FWS, ironically the same week that I was arguing a case in federal court just down the street against USFS and FWS. But as my FS colleague noted, we should never let a little lawsuit spoil a good friendship.

If anyone’s interested, here’s  some recent news regarding FWS activity on ESA listing of some WNS-threatened bats, these guys have an excellent website (I’m not affiliated):

And another bit of information on a CBD lawsuit to FOIA bat information from USFS in Idaho and Montana, I’m not sure the status of that and again I’m not affiliated in any way (though a little surprised, USFS usually responds pretty well to FOIA requests)

Here’s a photo of a bat with typical symptoms, fungal sporulation on muzzle and wings, this one’s alive but not for long.




11 thoughts on “Something different: White-nose syndrome of bats, and national forests”

  1. It’s gotten a great deal of attention in Region 2 of the Forest Service, not sure about other regions.
    In 2010 were preemptive cave closures as talked about in this 2012 Denver Post article. This year, an EA was finalized. The decision was to use an adaptive management strategy. Here is the link to current information and the EA.

  2. The WNS has led to a listing of a bat species (can’t remember which one) in the eastern U.S. The implications are this bat species has a more general range throughout the region, making its presence more prominent when considering federal land management activities. IMO, this will limit the discretionary decision space a land manager will have when considering any activity that alters the bat’s vegetative habitat. But the sadder news is the decimation of several bat species and their contribution to the vibrancy of ecological systems.

      • The Indiana bat is probably the ‘spotted owl’ of the bat world. It is federally endangered and it uses old trees for roosting (not all bats do this, but I am sure there are others). Even though white-nose syndrome is the biggest ongoing threat, as bat populations decline attention will also be focused on mitigating other stressors like loss of important habitat elements.

        Guidance for forestry practices:

        Possibility of litigation:

        • Thanks Jon. This is very useful information. I copied some information from the first link you provided, which confirms what Gil said about the role of the bat (I’m always curious about the larger role a species plays)…Seems like something that could be emphasized more when advocates talk about protecting species.

          “Bats help control insects, eating over 1,000
          mosquitoes, moths, and other nighttime insects per

          Bats are an important part of a healthy ecosystem
          and environment.

          The Indiana bat is one of two federally endangered
          animals found in Vermont.

          Indiana bat populations have become increasingly
          vulnerable due to White Nose Syndrome, a
          mysterious syndrome affecting bats in the
          northeastern U.S.

          Successful recovery of Indiana bat populations in
          Vermont will eliminate the need for additional and
          perhaps more costly species protection measures.

          Management for Indiana bat habitat can
          accommodate common forest management goals.”

        • Jon

          Thanks for the litigation waiting in the wings link. I guess that we shouldn’t be surprised. I doubt that they read the Vermont pamphlet and checked with the Indiana State Forester about what practices were being used to protect the bat. Why let a good opportunity get spoiled by facts?

  3. I’m curious whether anyone has any information on the implications for the broader ecosystem if the bats are lost to this. What is the role of the bats, in general? Thanks.


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