Spread of bat malady may close nearby caves | SkyHiNews.com

Spread of bat malady may close nearby caves

John Colson
Glenwood Springs correspondent
Aspen, CO Colorado

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – White nose syndrome has been killing bats in the eastern U.S. for the last several years, and apparently is about to lead to a closure of caves in the Rocky Mountain region as a precautionary measure.

The U.S. Forest Service, which has floated the likelihood of a closure of caves on federal lands across the West to forestall the spread of the malady, has yet to make a final, formal decision in the matter.

According to Patrick Thrasher, public affairs officer for the White River National Forest, a decision and announcement are due “some time next week.”

But, Thrasher said, “Anything that we would do on the White River National Forest would in no way affect privately owned and operated caves,” such as the Glenwood Caverns.

But, he said, well-known regional caves such as Fulford Cave in Eagle County and Hubbard’s Cave in Glenwood Canyon, would likely be closed.

The closures are due to a perception among scientists that human activity in caves may be contributing to the spread of the fungus, although some researchers believe the disease is mostly spread by tiny parasites that coexist with the bats.

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In the meantime, cavers across the state have cautioned the feds against acting too hastily in responding to what all acknowledge is a little understood phenomenon.

The white nose syndrome is a malady that seems related to a ring of white fungus that appears around the mouths, noses and wings of affected bats.

First detected in 2006 in New York State, it has so far been confirmed to have spread west as far as Oklahoma and south as far as Tennessee, according to information available on the Internet.

The disease is said to be connected with the deaths of more than a million bats along the Eastern Seaboard, though Thrasher said he has seen no indication from local authorities that Colorado’s bat population is in decline.

Bats are considered critical components of the ecosystems they live in, pollinating plant life and dispersing seeds, as well as preying on flying insect populations.

“Because bats often gather in large numbers, their impact on insect populations can be important,” states the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s website. “Without bats, insect numbers would doubtless rise significantly in some ecosystems, which could affect overall balance” of the various species within that ecosystem.

jcolson@postindependent.com

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