U.S. Army Biologist Inspecting a Brown Bat at Fort Drum
New York's brown bat continues to be hard hit by White Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is named for the white fungus that eats bat tissues and wakes the bats prematurely from hibernation. WNS has been confirmed in 14 states, 2 Canadian provinces, and appears from a recent survey to be spreading in New York State. New York and Vermont have lost more than 90%of their bats, threatening populations with total extinction or a best case scenario of hundreds of years of recovery time.
That disease is widespread in New York just four years after it was discovered in caves near Albany. According to last week's survey by New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), biologists found evidence of WNS in all corners of the state and in each of the 32 hibernation caves that were checked. Biologists were especially concerned that caves that had initially escaped WNS were now infected.
One of the worst-hit caves was Graphite Mine in the Adirondacks. Once New York's largest bat hibernation site, Graphite Mine's little brown bat population has decreased from 185,000 to 2,000. Another species in the mine, the tri-colored bat, is down to a single bat.
In late October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service released its 2nd draft of the WNS response plan. The USFWS has taken the lead coordinating between the local, state and federal agencies. The plan, largely an organizational document establishes priorities for the next phase of the fight. Environmentalists feel enough isn't being done to stop the spread of disease. The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) called the plan a "slow-motion response" for a disease that's already killed one million bats and has shown signs of spreading.
One potentially silver lining of NYSDEC's survey was that the population at two of the original hard-hit caves in the Albany area appears to have held steady, hopefully this means that the die-off could have already peaked in those caves.