The Georgia Wildlife Resources Division will hold an information meeting June 9 in Rock Springs to discuss a response plan for the bat disease called white-nose syndrome and cave management options on state lands. The meeting is set for 6:30-9 p.m. at the Walker County Civic Center.

White-nose syndrome has been called “the most precipitous wildlife decline in the past century in North America.” An estimated 1-2 million bats have died from the syndrome since it was discovered among hibernating bats in New York in 2006. Researchers have documented bat death rates of more than 90 percent at many infected sites. Most of the bats died during hibernation.

The syndrome, or WNS, has been confirmed in 11 states in the Northeast, Southeast and Midwest, and in two Canadian provinces. The fungus blamed for WNS, Geomyces destructans, has been found on hibernating bats in two additional states. Research suggests that Geomyces destructans spores can be spread from bat to bat and from caving and research gear used in affected sites.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a cave closure advisory in March 2009 recommending a voluntary moratorium on caving in states where WNS had been documented in bat hibernacula, and in adjoining states. The Fish and Wildlife Service based the advisory on evidence that human activity in caves and mines might help spread WNS. Work to monitor bat populations and the syndrome are permitted only if strict decontamination protocols are followed.

The Wildlife Resources Division held a public meeting Jan. 21 on the development of a WNS response plan, which included the possibility of cave closures. Georgia was not under the caving moratorium then. White-nose syndrome has since been documented in Tennessee, making Georgia subject to cave-closure recommendations as a border state.

In response to the Fish and Wildlife Service advisory, the Wildlife Resources Division, which is part of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, is evaluating management options for caves on state lands.

The purpose of the June 9 meeting is to discuss those options and present information on WNS.

Coosa Valley News