Earlier this summer on a calm evening under the towering Ponderosa pines of the Black Hills National Forest, researchers made an unfortunate observation – a bat with suspicious wing lesions. Laboratory testing in early June at the U.S. Geological Survey National Wildlife Health Center confirmed the arrival of the deadly white-nose syndrome in South Dakota for the first time and efforts are underway to verify Myotis Volans, or long-legged bat, as the newest North American bat documented with this devastating disease. During the previous week, the fungus causing the disease was confirmed at Badlands National Park in South Dakota and the Fort Laramie National Historic Site in eastern Wyoming. Interagency efforts are ongoing to limit further spread of the fungus and deadly disease into other cave areas in northern Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota.
“Conservation of bats requires all of us to think into the future, to think about what needs to be done today to ensure bats are with us for decades to come,” said Richard Truex, regional wildlife biologist with the USDA Forest Service. “We’re working closely with other agencies, cave users, and local communities to responsibly protect bats from unnecessary exposure to this killing fungus and to limit disturbance of bats to give them a fighting chance against the disease.”
This fall, regional and local partners will work to develop cohesive strategies to limit disease spread and disturbance of bats that roost in caves. Currently, 43 caves on national forests in the Rocky Mountain Region have seasonal or year-long closures in place. Starting in the spring of 2019, additional cave closures may be implemented for area national forests. Public education and decontamination measures for white-nose syndrome will continue at Jewel Cave National Monument and Wind Cave National Park to protect bats and cave resources, while maintaining opportunities for underground recreation, education and scientific discovery.
The long-legged bat caught in Black Hills National Forest, just south of the boundary of Jewel Cave National Monument is the 11th species confirmed with white-nose syndrome. Last month, the disease was confirmed on a cave bat (Myotis velifer) in Kansas and the fungus detected on a western small-footed bat (Myotis ciliolabrum) in South Dakota.“
All three of these bats are western species,” said Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “And now that we’re nearing the end of the 2018 winter surveillance season, we’re left with something of a cliff-hanger until next winter to see how these species will respond to the disease.”
Not known to affect humans or other animals, white-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats across North America. Bats are important for healthy ecosystems and contribute at least $3 billion annually to the U.S. agriculture economy through pest control and pollination.