White-Nose Syndrome

White-Nose Syndrome (WNS):

The Eastern Region is home to 14 bat species, including the federally endangered Indiana bat, gray bat, and Virginia big-eared bat.  Until recently, many of these bat species were thought to be thriving throughout the Eastern Region.  And then, White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) was discovered. White-Nose Syndrome is a disease that affects bats as they hibernate in caves and mines. This disease was previously unknown in North America, and has spread very quickly across the Eastern Region.  First documented in New York in the winter of 2006-2007, WNS has spread rapidly across parts of the United States and Canada killing over 6 million bats in just 6 years.   Bats have been found sick and dying in unprecedented numbers in and around caves and mines.  In some locations, more than 90 percent of bats have died.The continued spread of this disease poses a considerable risk to millions of other bats that have not yet been exposed to the disease. Bats are an essential, beneficial part of ecosystems. Bats play critical roles in insect control, plant pollination, seed dissemination, and cave ecosystems. Some research even suggests that bats could save agriculture more than 3 billion dollars in pest control every year simply by eating insects!  White-Nose Syndrome has the potential to effect all off these important environmental functions.White-nose syndrome was named for the fuzzy white fungus that is commonly visible on the muzzle, ears, and wings of affected bats.  Scientists identified a previously unknown species of cold-loving fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans as the cause of WNS.   P. destructans thrives in low temperatures (40-55 F) and high humidity – conditions commonly found in caves and mines in the Eastern Region. Nine national forests in the Eastern Region possess caves or abandoned mines with winter bat habitat.  Access to these sites has been restricted since 2009 to slow-the-spread of WNS, either through Forest-level closure orders or by structures such as bat-friendly gates. The Forest Service is actively engaged in responding to the WNS crisis in many ways including:

WNS Research

  • FS scientists genetically identified the WNS fungus as P. destructans.
  • FS Research and Development is applying its soil fungus pathology, disease management, and bat ecology expertise toward managing the invasive P. destructans in the soil and on bats.
  • The FS is testing the use of “gene silencing,” a recent technology that is showing promise as a disease-fighting tool.

WNS Management

  • The Eastern Region has been conducting acoustical monitoring across each NF since 2009 to inform National Forest System management.
  • Cave inventory survey and mapping efforts have been leveraged with in-kind contributions from partners.
  • We are managing forested habitats to improve spring, summer, fall, and winter habitat conditions for bats.
  • We have assisted in the development of national decontamination protocols, as well as commercial cave decontamination guidance.

WNS Education

  • The FS has become a leader in bat conservation and WNS education and outreach by creating Project EduBat - an engaging educational program designed to prepare, inspire, excite, and motivate people of all ages to take part in conserving our bats!  Free resources, lesson plans, posters, and educational trunks are available across the country for your use.
  • BatsLIVE! which is a distance learning adventure that uses technology to reach educators and children in grades four through eight.
  • We also led the creation of Battle for Bats: Surviving White Nose Syndrome a short film that highlights the importance of our bats, the threat of WNS, and what we can do to make a difference.  

Discover more about white-nose syndrome and our valuable bats:

Bat Conservation International - http://www.batcon.org

Bat Conservation International is devoted to conserving the world’s bats and their ecosystems to ensure a healthy planet. It was founded in 1982 as scientists around the world became concerned about the alarming decline in bat populations. Bat Conservation International has achieved unprecedented progress by emphasizing sustainable uses of natural resources that benefit both bats and people.

National White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) Website –http://whitenosesyndrome.org/

Learn all about WNS including the latest from the field and WNS investigations, information about partners that are involved in fighting WNS, and the most up-to-date information on scientific and management efforts.

Organization for Bat Conservation - http://www.batconservation.org/

The Organization for Bat Conservation’s mission is to preserve bats and their habitats through education, collaboration, and research.  The web site has useful information about bats, bat conservation, fun facts, kids’ and teachers’ pages, and more.