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: http://gknudsenlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/WNS.pdf (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): http://www.endangeredspecieslawandpolicy.com/2013/10/articles/listing-decision/with-the-conclusion-of-the-shutdown-the-us-fish-and-wildlife-service-gets-back-to-work/
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) http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2012/white-nose-syndrome-05-16-2012.html
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”
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.
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.
This link: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/r2/home/?cid=stelprdb5430002
did not give any indication that “this will limit the discretionary decision space a land manager will have when considering any activity that alters the bat’s vegetative habitat”
Do you have a link that supports your claim of an impact on anything other than cavers and closing caves with known infestations?
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: http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/library/factsheets/nongame_and_Natural_Heritage/Landowner%27s_Guide_to_Indiana_Bat_Habitat.pdf
Possibility of litigation: http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/forest-alliance-protests-logging-indiana-state-forests-38848/
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
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
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.”
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?
Here’s a letter about USFS Region 2 WNS management plan, from Western Bat Working Group, very knowledgeable folks (my co-author Rita Dixon of Idaho F&G is past president)
Here in Region 1 we have relatively less caving going on, but lots of abandoned mines where bats hibernate, may present some different challenges.
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.
The basic answer is that without bats we would be overrun by insects and especially where they are defoliating insects like the locusts of biblical proportions, farmers would be hard pressed to survive without resorting to tremendous quantities of expensive insecticide that most of us don’t want sprayed on our food.
So Bats have a very big role to play in the ecosystem.
Here is a decent overview http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmnh/batfacts.htm
Gil’s answer to that question is as good as any. In tropical and subtropical regions, bats also play a hugely important role as pollinators. Here’s another good reference article on that, Tom Kunz is just about the best know bat ecologist in the world.
Thanks Gil and Guy.