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RESEARCHERS RESUME SEARCH FOR SIGNS OF WHITE-NOSE SYNDROME IN WISCONSIN BAT CAVES

January 22, 2014

MADISON - State bat scientists are going underground starting this week to see if Wisconsin's bat caves and mines continue to be free of white-nose syndrome, a deadly disease that has killed millions of bats in the eastern U.S. since 2007. They also are asking the public to keep an eye out above ground for any signs of sick or dead bats.

"We need help from the public to save Wisconsin bats," says Paul White, a Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist. "Bats are an important part of our ecosystems and provide Wisconsin farmers up to $1.5 billion in natural pest control every year.

"Please be on the look-out for and report unusual bat behavior like finding dead bats at summer roosts in January and February or observing bats flying outside in January and February." Information on how and where to report bats can be found on the Wisconsin Bat Program website (exit DNR).

White-nose syndrome is named after the powdery white fuzz that can develop on hibernating bats' noses, ears and wings after infection with the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. The disease causes bats to wake more often while they are hibernating, thus burning up the critical stores of fat they need to make it through winter, he says.

So for the fourth year in a row, White and his colleagues will be looking in caves and mines for signs of the fuzzy white fungus.

"We remain cautiously optimistic that we will avoid the disease again this year, but are prepared for what happens if we find white-nose syndrome," says White.

"Fall (2013) swabbing results yielded good news in that we did not detect the fungus responsible for white-nose syndrome, so our hibernacula continue to have a clean bill of health," he says.

"But we remain on high alert because of the last years' discoveries of the fungus in Minnesota and white-nose syndrome in Illinois."

DNR's pro-active approach in managing and monitoring for white nose syndrome WNS continues to serve as a strong model for other states, White says. DNR added four cave bat species to the state threatened species list, providing them protections and focusing management efforts; put in place administrative rules that give the department authority to manage bats and establish disease prevention and control options; have built working relationships with landowners of mines and caves and helped them take actions to keep the disease at bay; and have pursued outreach efforts ranging from enlisting volunteers to monitor bat roosts or build bat houses or just enjoy the "Bat Festival" educational event -- set for Oct. 4 this year at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee.

"It's hard not to look at Wisconsin on the WNS map and ask, "why haven't they found WNS yet?" White says. "We would like to think management efforts such as pre-screening cave/mine visitors to minimize the risk of human transmission of the fungus, along with raising awareness of bat importance, has afforded us another year that Wisconsin can remain WNS free."

Read Cave Drama in the February 2013 issue of Wisconsin Natural Resources to learn more about WNS and check out the latest edition of the Wisconsin Bat Program's newsletter, Echolocator [PDF] (exit DNR), to see how citizens are going to bat for bats, or search the DNR website dnr.wi.gov for keyword "bats."

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Paul White 608-267-0813 Heather Kaarakka, 608-266-2576; Jennifer Redell, 608-267-0281

Last Revised: Wednesday, January 22, 2014




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