Wisconsin bats could be at risk
MADISON White Nose Syndrome, the fungus that causes a deadly bat disease, has been confirmed in an Iowa cave popular among cavers.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported that recent surveillance efforts detected the fungus on a bat at Maquoketa Caves State Park in northeast Iowa, just 30 miles from Wisconsin and within easy flying distance of bats dispersing from this cave.
So, Wisconsin bat officials are urging people to take steps required to avoid spreading the fungus when visiting caves or other underground sites in and around the state.
“Wisconsin cavers and cave owners have worked hard with us to take actions to protect bat populations,” said Jennifer Schehr-Redell, a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources cave and mine specialist. “Now we need everyone to follow the rules for decontaminating and moving gear to save our cave bats that are so important to our ecosystems and to keeping crop and forest pests and mosquitoes in check.”
The DNR has special decontamination steps required for cavers traveling with their gear between sites in Wisconsin. Recreational cavers and tourists at caves and mines are not allowed to bring any gear or clothing into Wisconsin after it has been used in a cave outside of the state. For more information about WNS, related rules or ways to help bats, go to www.dnr.wi.gov and search for bats.
Iowa’s discovery is a serious concern because it means the fungus is close to the area of Wisconsin with the state’s highest concentration of bat hibernacula.
Hibernacula is the term used by biologists for sites occupied by wintering bats. Bats, that are widely dispersed during the summer gather at these sites in large numbers to wait out the cold weather. WNS can spread quickly through these concentrated groups of bats. Surviving bats can further spread the fungus when they emerge from the hibernacula in the spring.
No signs of the fungus or disease were found in Wisconsin earlier this year when state DNR bat experts searched more than 100 caves likely to hold hibernating bats in the winter. Wisconsin has one of the highest concentrations of hibernating bats in the Midwest. Some bats from Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan -- up to 300,000 bats -- spend their winters here before dispersing to summer roosts. Any disease affecting Wisconsin’s hibernacula has far-reaching impacts.
Schehr-Redell said the fungus can persist in caves even without bats present, meaning otherwise healthy bats can be infected months after leaving the cave.
“We need people who visit caves in Iowa and Wisconsin and surrounding areas to take steps to avoid accidentally spreading the fungus on their clothing or footwear to our caves,” Schehr-Redell said.
“Regular washing does not kill the fungus or fungal spores,” she added. “Wearing separate clothing for each cave visited is the best precaution. Cameras, flashlights and other hard-sided items need to be wiped down using Lysol brand disinfecting wipes between visits to underground locations.”
Rules in Wisconsin prohibit human transport of the WNS fungus, which is prohibited under the state’s invasive species law.
Wisconsin has four bat cave species that are vulnerable to white nose syndrome. It kills 70 percent to 100 percent of bats in contaminated caves. The disease was discovered in New York in 2006 and has spread to 19 states and four Canadian provinces, killing an estimated 6.7 million bats.