To protect hibernating bats from white-nose syndrome, the fast-moving fungal disease that's killed nearly 7 million bats in the United States, the U.S. Forest Service has kept caves closed in the Rocky Mountain Region for two years to all but the most essential human access. Now, with the policy up for renewal, the Service is considering weakening protections for bats, increasing the risk of cave visitors bringing the disease into the caves.
Nationwide the loss of bats could mean exploding populations of insects no longer kept in check by these furry, fly-by-night mammals. Scientists estimate that bats are worth $22 billion annually to American farmers.
While bats are dying at rates topping 90 percent in some areas, and some species facing extinction, the risk to western bats and farmers is too great to justify easing restrictions for discretionary cave uses like recreation.
Tell the Forest Service you support maintaining the current, responsible management policy.
SUBJECT: Keep Caves Closed and Bats Safe in the Rocky Mountain Region
Dear [Decision Maker],
Please renew the emergency cave closures in the Rocky Mountain Region, enacted in July 2010, to protect bats from the spread of white-nose syndrome. The U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Region harbors important bat habitat and is vulnerable to even a single new appearance of this fast-spreading disease. If allowed to establish a new epicenter, it could spread throughout the West.
White-nose syndrome has caused bat populations to decline by more than 90 percent in some states. This wildlife crisis must be met with the strongest precautionary measures possible to contain it.
Biologists do not have a cure for white-nose syndrome. The only way we know how to reduce the risk of its spread is to prevent the human transport of Geomyces destructans. Stopping human transmission of the disease and preventing it from leapfrogging into the heart of the West will buy precious time for researchers to study it and possibly find an effective treatment.
Recent research by the University of Winnipeg provides strong evidence that white-nose syndrome originated in Europe. The most likely mode of transmission was from fungal spores hitching a ride on gear, clothing or shoes from a cave in Europe to the initial epicenter near Albany, N.Y. Recognizing the potential for fungal transport within North America, land managers in the Forest Service's Eastern and Southern regions implemented cave closures in 2009, and have renewed them every year since.
The Forest Service in the Rocky Mountain Region acted intelligently and responsibly when it issued the cave-closure order in 2010 and renewed it in 2011. I urge you to carry forward this same policy and provide bats the strongest protections. They are essential members of the natural communities found on national forest lands. With the very survival of many wildlife species at stake, it's possible this will be the most important management decision that you ever make.