published Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

New money available to fight bat threatening white-nose syndrome

A researcher holds an uninfected eastern red bat captured during July 31, 2007 in the Cherokee National Forest. The die-off of an estimated half-million bats from white-nose syndrome in the Northeast has frightening implications for Tennessee, which has an estimated 9,000 known bat caves.
A researcher holds an uninfected eastern red bat captured during July 31, 2007 in the Cherokee National Forest. The die-off of an estimated half-million bats from white-nose syndrome in the Northeast has frightening implications for Tennessee, which has an estimated 9,000 known bat caves.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Help may be on the way against a fungus that already has killed millions of mosquito-eating and beetle-chomping bats in the Northeast and now is threatening Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, according to wildlife officials.

Congress has directed the Department of Interior to allot $4 million from its 2012 endangered species recovery fund toward research and management of white-nose syndrome, which is fatal to bats.

Mike Armstrong, Southeast region white-nose syndrome and bat recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the Southeast could be the biggest beneficiary of the money.

"Biologists in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama are all working very hard right now setting their goals for the upcoming winter of WNS [syndrome] monitoring and surveillance work," he said.

Additionally, a recent research breakthrough at the University of Tennessee has given wildlife watchers something specific to aim at in seeking a cure. They have confirmed the cause of the fungus that first showed up in the United States five years ago in the Northeast. The disease since has spread to 16 states, including Tennessee, where it was confirmed last winter.

Though not yet found in Georgia, researchers know infected bats won't pay attention to the state line that separates Tennessee's Cherokee National Forest from the Chattahoochee Nation Forest in Georgia.

Those researchers also have confirmed a migration pattern of bats in Cherokee Forest caves to a Smoky Mountains National Park cave where the disease was confirmed in 2010.

Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz., said the $4 million will help keep up the research.

"At least the work that is being done now is not going to grind to a halt," she said last week. "Tennessee already is monitoring, and I believe Alabama and Georgia have completed their white-nose monitoring plans.

Innovative ideas

Some of Tennessee's efforts include a nature conservancy plan to build an artificial hibernaculum, a fake cave that can be cleaned and treated to help bats live.

Now that scientists know the fungus, a fungicide treatment should help, right?

It's not so simple.

Almost any environmental treatment option likely will upset the unique ecological systems in caves, and a fungicide also would kill beneficial fungus.

"In an artificial cave, you can manipulate the environment and kill the fungus with anti-fungal agents or heat while the bats are absent without fear of impacting a natural ecosystem," said Tennessee Nature Conservancy's Cave and Karst Program Director Cory Holliday in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-sponsored blog.

"You can manipulate the environment to attract a variety of bat species. Ideally, the bats can come and go seasonally, with no disruptions to their natural behaviors, and the fungus can be eliminated during the summer while the bats are absent."

Holliday said the conservancy is developing partnerships for the project and is near finalizing the design and soliciting bids for construction.

"We're on schedule to have the artificial cave in the ground and ready to go before hibernation season 2012-13," he said.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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CADMAN612 said...

OK, Got the money for this but must close several mental health insitutions needing much less financial help. Give me a break

December 28, 2011 at 6:17 a.m.
rolando said...

Yeah. Save the bat or stop gang shootings, etc ad infinitum. Your choice.

December 28, 2011 at 10:27 a.m.
holdout said...

Maybe the fungus could be used to stop the gang shootings.

December 28, 2011 at 12:28 p.m.
terrybham said...

I can't believe that the "proud conservatives" in Tennessee want federal money. What a bunch of hypocrites. It would appear that they don't hate federal money after all-they just don't want anyone else from receiving any. That would leave more for them.

December 28, 2011 at 2:03 p.m.
holdout said...

What about this story makes you see either conservative or liberal? Need a grownup to define, "conservancy" for you?

December 29, 2011 at 10:52 a.m.
smartmomma said...

So you want billions more insects flying around spreading disease at an alarming rate, and destroying crops, leading to famine and financial collapse?! Think before you 'speak'. Even if you aren't humane enough to care about millions of innocent deaths likely caused by humans, you ought to have the sense to understand the importance of the situation, or keep your mouth shut until you do.

I care very much about the health care crisis, and the treatment of our poor and mentally ill, as well. Something also needs to be done in those areas, but it's a separate issue, which has no affect on the importance of this one.

January 20, 2012 at 1:28 p.m.
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