Center for Biological Diversity

Help the Forest Service Save Bats in the West

West Virginia valley fill
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Acting to save bats in the West, the U.S. Forest Service is considering a plan to close bat-inhabited caves and mines on national forests and grasslands in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, and parts of Wyoming and South Dakota. The closure order would prohibit recreational access in all of the region’s caves for at least a year, and is designed to protect bats from the possible human spread of white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome has already wiped out more than a million bats in the eastern United States, and the fungus that causes it was found earlier this year in western Oklahoma -- just a stone's throw from Colorado. Once white-nose syndrome is established in a new part of the country, the bats themselves will spread the disease, so it’s imperative that human transmission of the fungus be halted before it’s too late.

Because the best bet for saving bats right now is to keep people from spreading the fungus thought to cause the illness from cave to cave,
the Center for Biological Diversity has petitioned for cave closures on all federal lands in the lower 48 states. Many cavers are temporarily hanging up their ropes and caving gear for the sake of bats. But some cavers are vociferously opposed to cave restrictions, and the latest plan to close all caves in the Rocky Mountain region for a year has been met with strong resistance.

The Forest Service is trying to do the right thing for bats, and needs your support. Please take the time now to let Forest Service officials know you appreciate their concern for bats and their willingness to be proactive and close caves before white-nose syndrome reaches their lands.

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Please submit comments by August 30, 2010.

Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome photo by Marvin Moriarty, courtesy USFWS.

The Center's petition to close all bat caves in the lower 48 states is due to concern that white-nose syndrome could leapfrog into a new part of the country, with the fungus hitching a ride on cavers’ boots or other gear. Bats are the main transmitters of the disease as far as scientists can tell -- but they don't have the range that car-driving, airplane-hopping humans do, and the creation of a new white-nose epicenter in the West due to human transmission would exponentially expand the scale of the existing bat crisis. Targeted closures of a select few bat caves, as suggested by the cavers, is not an adequate solution to the problem of human transmission. Once white-nose syndrome is in a new area, whether the bat colony or the cave is small or large, the disease will be transmitted by the bats themselves.