For Immediate Release
Mollie Matteson, (802) 434-2388 (office)
Report: Federal Land Managers' Failure to Close Caves Leaves Millions of Bats in West Vulnerable to Fast-Moving, Deadly Disease
today finding that federal land managers in the western states are not
taking sufficient action to ensure that the deadly white-nose syndrome
does not spread westward from eastern states where it has already
killed more than 1 million bats.
The Center today also sent letters to all the major
federal public-land agencies - including the Department of the
Interior, Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Land Management, U.S.
Forest Service and National Park Service - urging immediate, complete
administrative closures of all caves and abandoned mines to stop the
spread of white-nose syndrome by humans traveling from cave to cave.
"Bats, White-nose Syndrome, and Federal Cave and Mine
Closures" reviews all cave-management policies of all federal
land-management agencies. It concludes:
"Despite the fact that the main threat of human
transmission of white-nose syndrome is transport of the disease into
entirely new regions of the country, distant from current sites, land
managers still act as if distance is protective, which is not the
"Many western federal land managers are delaying
action at the very time when action could be most meaningful and
effective - in other words, before the bat disease reaches the West.
Rather than delay closures of bat caves and mines until white-nose
syndrome is closer to, or actually documented in, western states,
federal land managers must move quickly to declare closures of all bat
caves and abandoned mines, allowing access only for essential
scientific research and safety purposes."
White-nose syndrome, a deadly fungus, has already
killed more than a million bats in the eastern United States. It is
moving westward in what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has called
the worst wildlife health crisis in memory.
"Federal land managers in the West need to enact
emergency closures of caves and abandoned mines right away," said
Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate at the Center. "Precautionary
closure is the best tool we have for keeping this bat epidemic from
leaping into an entirely new region of the country. Time is running
White-nose syndrome first showed up in upstate New York
in 2006 and has since spread throughout the eastern half of the United
States. It has also been found in Ontario and Quebec. Two years ago,
scientists estimated that more than a million bats had died. Since then
bat mortality, spread among six different species, has continued to
mount, reaching 100 percent in some Northeast bat colonies. Last
spring, the white-nose pathogen was found on a bat in western Oklahoma.
"This dangerous, bat-killing disease is moving west.
Federal land managers have a chance to limit the damage by closing
caves, but that has yet to happen on a scale that will provide any
meaningful protection for bats in the West," said Matteson.
The Center's report found that while federal public
lands in the eastern United States are now largely off-limits to
nonessential, unauthorized cave and mine access, the same is not true
for the West. Other than national parks and the Rocky Mountain region
of the U.S. Forest Service, most bat caves and mines on western public
lands remain open and vulnerable to the spread of white-nose syndrome.
In particular, Bureau of Land Management staff
indicated that agency has no plans to enact blanket closures and no
timeline for implementing even partial closures across most of the
Research has demonstrated that the fungal pathogen can
live in cave soils and can be transported on clothing and gear into new
sites. Strong evidence points to the probability that the fungus was
originally transported to North America from Europe - where the fungus
has been identified but does not affect bats - by people.
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