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Idaho Spelunking Opportunities Go Dark to Protect Bats

PHOTO: Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome. Photo credit: Marvin Moriarty/USFWS
PHOTO: Little brown bat with white-nose syndrome. Photo credit: Marvin Moriarty/USFWS
August 24, 2012

ARCO, Idaho - Caves closed. Almost all of them.

That notice has been issued by the Forest Service for lands throughout the Rocky Mountain West. The goal is to keep white-nose syndrome at bay. The fungus already has killed more than 7 million bats in the East, and has been moving west.

At Craters of the Moon National Monument, wildlife biologist Todd Stefanic says five caves remain open to the public there - but all others are closed, and those that are open have entry restrictions. The goal, he says, is to delay infections.

"The general theory is that it's not 'if,' it's 'when' - and the latest estimate I saw was that it'll be here in five to six years."

The white-nose syndrome fungus covers the bat's nose and wings during hibernation. The condition can cause bats to wake and fly during the day. Others group in unusual clusters at the entrances of caves before they drop to the ground, dead. The fatality rate ranges from 90 percent to 100 percent.

Stefanic says there's great concern about losing bats because of the role they play in the state's agricultural economy.

"Without bats eating 10 times their weight in insects every night, the amount of pesticides that farmers will have to use is scary."

Stefanic says 11 bat species have been documented at Craters, and the staff there is working to take inventories of populations to help keep tabs on bat health.

A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet on white-nose syndrome is online at whitenosesyndrome.org.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - ID