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MADISON – Samples that were pending from 19 caves and mines in Wisconsin tested negative for white-nose syndrome, confirming that as of April this year the deadly bat disease was isolated to a single site in Grant County.
The samples were collected as part of a routine follow up during the surveying of 135 mines and caves. Visual surveys of the remaining 116 sites did not find any other signs of white-nose syndrome.
“Results were negative on follow-up surveillance and genetic samples at the caves and mines closest to the disease epicenter,” says Paul White, a conservation biologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. “We will continue to work with science advisory groups, stakeholders and partners to discuss and identify the best management practices in efforts to slow the spread of this disease.”
White-nose syndrome was confirmed in Wisconsin earlier this year when results from visual inspection and genetic and tissue tests showed that 2 percent of bats in a single mine had the disease. This infection does not affect people or other animal species but causes hibernating bats to frequently wake, depleting their energy and causing them to starve or dehydrate.
Wisconsin has one of the highest concentrations of hibernating bats in the Midwest, and its population of little brown bats in the largest remaining in the world. Some bats from neighboring states of Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan — up to 300,000 bats — spend their winters here so any disease affecting Wisconsin’s hibernacula has far reaching impacts on the summer landscape and on the industries that depend on bats for natural pest control.
Bats are voracious insect eaters, helping keep crop and forest pests and mosquitoes in check. A recent national study estimated the insect-eating services that bats provide between $658 million to $1.5 billion alone for Wisconsin’s agricultural industry.
Next steps in efforts to save bats
Cave and mine owners were notified by DNR of the winter disease surveillance findings. Efforts to control the human-assisted transmission of the fungus remain in place, including strict decontamination for researchers and DNR personnel as well as screening commercial cave and mine visitors.
The DNR Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation’s dedicated team is also exploring effective management strategies and continues to conduct comprehensive statewide projects to address knowledge gaps in bat trends. Through two citizen-based monitoring projects, volunteers are helping to gather crucial data on current threats and population health.
“Our goal remains to prevent extinction and monitor bat health,” says White. “Through implementing adaptive management actions, we hope to sustain one of Wisconsin’s greatest natural resources for the benefit of future generations.”
How citizens can help, including reporting sick or dead bats
Wisconsin citizens can help by continuing to avoid disturbing bats, especially during hibernation; by following all decontamination requirements for those who enter caves or mines and by continuing to volunteer to monitor bat populations in Wisconsin through a variety of different opportunities. Wisconsin’s four bat cave species are listed as threatened, a status which makes it illegal to kill them or take action that would result in their death. Learn more about bats and volunteering opportunities on DNR’s Bat Program website.
People who see sick or dead bats, especially between October and March, are encouraged to report them to DNR. Citizens can find the reporting form and instructions for how to safely collect carcasses of dead bats on DNR’s Bat Program website. People should not touch or handle bats without appropriate protective clothing.