September 21, 2010
MADISON -- Wisconsin's four species of cave bats are under imminent threat from the always deadly disease known as white-nose syndrome. The state Department of Natural Resources will ask the state Natural Resources Board on Wednesday to approve measures aimed at protecting bats before the disease gets a foothold in the state. (See agenda items 3.B 12 and 13.)
"If we act quickly, we can meet this extinction threat head on and deal with it," says DNR Secretary Matt Frank. "White-nose syndrome in Wisconsin is likely, so we need to take action now to slow the spread and to conserve as many bats as possible."
Wisconsin has the largest concentration of bats in the upper Midwest. The most common Wisconsin bat - the little brown - is particularly susceptible to the disease and faces extinction.
"Bats are critical to our ecosystems and our economy," Frank says. "A single little brown bat eats up to 1,000 insects per hour, consuming large numbers of agricultural pests which nationally would cost farmers and foresters billions of dollars a year."
Bats also keep mosquitoes in check, minimizing mosquito borne diseases such as West Nile virus.
White-nose syndrome has spread across 14 states and two Canadian provinces in just three years, killing as much as 90 to 100 percent of bats in infected hibernacula. The disease is currently 200 to 300 miles from Wisconsin's borders, well within the 280-mile migrating range of bats. The disease could be in detected in Wisconsin caves this winter.
DNR is proposing two actions to protect bats, which currently have no protections in Wisconsin. DNR will ask the Natural Resources Board for an emergency order and for permission to hold public meetings:
"We are already working with cave and mine owners, recreational cavers, businesses, farmers, and others to identify hibernacula to protect from disease introduction, but with the disease so close, we need to rapidly ramp up protections," Frank says.
White-nose syndrome is a devastating disease of bats. It gets its name from a white fungus that grows on nose, ears, muzzles and wings. Scientists say the disease can be transmitted from bat to bat or to bats from a cave that has been infected, likely from a human introduction on shoes or equipment. It kills up to 75 percent of bats in the hibernaculum the first year; 90 to 100 percent the second. Scientists believe the syndrome causes bats to act abnormally and use up reserves when they should be hibernating, causing death. All four of Wisconsin's cave bat species (little brown, northern long-eared, eastern pipistrelle, and big brown bats) are mortally susceptible to the disease.
For more information see the Saving Wisconsin Bats page of the DNR website.
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Laurel Steffes, (608)266-8109