Fast-moving fungus is wiping out bat populations in East, Midwest; the flying mammals play a huge role in controlling insect populations
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — To protect bats from a fast-moving fungus that’s wiping out populations in the East and Midwest, the U.S. Forest Service Tuesday announced a temporary one-year closure of abandoned mines and caves across the five-state Rocky Mountain Region, including Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota and Wyoming.
Forest Service deputy supervisor Tony Dixon said the agency will work with the caving community and researchers to try and figure out which caves could be re-opened to the public. Dixon said the agency won’t heavily enforce the closure, but will rely on cooperation from the public. Violators could face fines of up to $1,000 and even jail time for breaking the law. Get more information at this Forest Service website.
“The intent is to balance our ecosystem, to not lose our entire bat population,” Dixon said. We’re really trying to promote voluntary compliance,” he said.
The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome hasn’t been spotted in Colorado yet, but it has been found as close as Missouri, within migration distance. The fungus has killed between 90 to 100 percent of the bat populations in most caves where it has spread.
Bats are crucial to controlling bugs. Without them, all sorts of insect populations could spike, potentially resulting in impacts to agriculture. Bats also are important plant pollinators and distribute seeds, Dixon said. Loss of bats could require farmers and ranchers to use more pesticides, he added.
There are a few exceptions to the closure where special permittees can control access in and out of the caves. During the year–long closure, the Forest Service and partners will conduct educational activities, and start baseline detection and monitoring of bats and white-nose syndrome.
Forest Service biologist Nancy Warren said there are 21 bat species in Colorado and 15 of them use caves as habitats. Three of the species are on the Forest Service sensitive species list.
Filed under: Environment, Summit County Colorado, wildlife Tagged: | ecological role of bats, Forest Service closes caves to protect bats, Forest Service Rocky Mountain Region, Forest Service Tony Dixon, Summit County Colorado, Summit County News, threats to Colorado bats, US Forest Service, USFS, white-nose syndrome