Wed February 9, 2011

As Deadly Bat Disease Spreads, Advocates Call for More Western Cave Closures

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a deadly fungus affecting bats on the East Coast has spread to North Carolina. And that’s reinforcement for some advocacy groups who say the federal government isn’t doing enough to stop the disease’s spread to the West.

Scientists don’t understand why White Nose Syndrome has killed large bat populations in the North East. So far a fungus connected to the disease has been detected as far west as Oklahoma. In an effort to slow the spread, the U.S. Forest Service restricted access to caves in Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota last summer. But caves in most other western states remain open.

“This is the moment that federal land managers need to act,” said Molly Matteson, a conversation advocate with the Vermont-based Center for Biological Diversity. “I think the great fear we’re all bracing ourselves is that White Nose will show up in some other western location.”

The Center for Biological Diversity released a report last month calling for more cave closures on federal lands in the West.

The disease is primarily spread from bat to bat, but humans have been connected to suspicious jumps in the condition from one state to another. It’s during the animals’ hibernation, which goes until the spring, when they’re seen as most at risk for dying from the disease.

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