NEWS ARCHIVE:     Age: 4,259 days

See This Full Issue

All Previous Archived Issues


December 21, 2010

MADISON -- Bats in Wisconsin have received some much needed assistance to help stave off a deadly disease. Earlier this month the Natural Resources Board unanimously approved three new rules to help protect Wisconsin cave bats from white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has killed over a million bats as it spreads rapidly across the northeastern United States.

The new rules list four cave bat species as threatened; list the white-nose syndrome fungus as a prohibited invasive species; and calls for monitoring of caves and mines and other preventive measures to limit the potential introduction and spread of white-nose syndrome.

Laurie Osterndorf is the Department of Natural Resources land division administrator. She credited the state's ability to move quickly on the WNS threat to the excellent cooperation between commercial cave owners, the caving community and DNR staff.

"We're grateful that we've been able to work collaboratively to develop policies that will help protect our bat populations without harm to Wisconsin's business, tourism and recreation interests," said Osterndorf.

White-nose syndrome is associated with a fungus - Geomyces destructans - that grows on nose, ears, muzzles and wings of bats. The disease can be transmitted from bat to bat or to bats from a cave or mine that has been infected. As witnessed in states along the east coast, WNS can kill 90 to 100 percent of the bats hibernating in infected caves or mines.

Wisconsin has the largest concentration of bats in the upper Midwest. The most common Wisconsin cave bat - the little brown - is particularly susceptible to the disease and faces extinction from WNS. Other Wisconsin bats that are vulnerable to WNS are the big brown bat, northern long-eared bat and eastern pipistrelle. There are approximately 120 known bat hibernacula in Wisconsin

Since it was first discovered in 2006, WNS has spread across 14 states and two Canadian provinces. This past fall, it was found less than 250 miles from Wisconsin's borders, well within the 280-mile migrating range of bats.

"We are now at the front line in fighting this disease," said Dave Redell, DNR's lead bat ecologist. "The next three to four years are crucial. If white-nose syndrome reaches Wisconsin, we are looking at potentially losing almost all of our cave-dwelling bat populations."

Redell noted the benefits of bats and what is at stake for Wisconsin. Bats provide a valuable service - at no cost. They help control insect pests that harm crops, forests, and people; and they play an important role in the ecological health and balance of our natural world.

Summary of the new rules

Before the Natural Resources Board voted to make the rules permanent, they reviewed more than 280 comments received at five public hearings or submitted during the comment period that ended November 29.

Erin Crain, DNR endangered resources section chief, said that for most people and in most situations, the new rules will not require any new permits or otherwise have any impact their activities. The rule listing four bat species—the little brown, big brown eastern pipistrelle and northern long-eared--as threatened identifies situations in which these bats can be killed or removed, provided it does not put the overall bat population at risk.

The new rules will help detect and prevent, or slow, the introduction and spread of white-nose syndrome. Department staff will work with landowners and businesses to access and inspect caves and mines to monitor for the fungus.

For landowners with caves and mines on their property, routine daily activities will not change unless a landowner intends to transport, kill or sell cave bats. If caving activities are allowed on the property, landowners are required to follow the new provisions or develop an alternate plan to minimize the risk of introducing the fungus to the property through human transmission. This includes not using caving equipment and clothing that has been used outside of Wisconsin, and decontaminating clothing and gear that have been used at other caves or mines in Wisconsin. It may also include installing, at the expense of the DNR, physical barriers to limit access to a cave or mine by either people or bats.

Crain said the department is working cooperatively with commercial cave owners to identify measures to minimize risk of visitors accidentally transferring white-nose syndrome while maintaining recreational opportunities and economic income.

These options may include providing dedicated clothing and gear, excluding bats from entering a cave prior to hibernation, and easy to follow instructions to help visitors determine if they should not bring personal items into a cave that may have been exposed to WNS. Educational information on the importance of bats and the threat of this newly emerging disease is available at these tourist sites, as well.

"Any rules and plans we develop need to be adaptive," said Erin Crain "The provisions of the rules we pass today may not be what we will be doing three years from now. We will continue to research, monitor and adjust as we learn more about white-nose syndrome and how to protect our bat populations."

More information on how to help protect bats can be found on the Saving Wisconsin Bats page of the DNR website.


Last Revised: Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Need an expert?

The Office of Communications connects journalists with DNR experts on a wide range of topics. For the fastest response, please email and the first available Communications Specialist will respond to you.