Grants aid bats dying of disease

A brown bat found in New York is suffering from the effects of the white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungus. (Associated Press)
A brown bat found in New York is suffering from the effects of the white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungus. (Associated Press)

Idaho, Montana and Washington are among 28 states to receive funding for bat research as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tries to stop the spread of deadly white-nose syndrome.

The fungus-based disease has killed huge populations of bats in 22 states and five Canadian provinces since it was detected in 2007. Federal estimates now put the toll at more than 5.7 million bats, mostly on the Eastern Seaboard and South.

Idaho received $41,500, one of the highest amounts from nearly $1 million in grants dispersed through the Endangered Species Recovery Program. Washington received $15,136 and Montana received $31,096.

“The research, monitoring and actions made possible by these grants have yielded valuable results and insights for our national response to white-nose syndrome,” said FWS national white-nose syndrome coordinator Jeremy Coleman.

The disease affects bats as they hibernate in caves during the winter. While its exact method of killing and spread are still unconfirmed, preliminary research shows it can be carried by humans who explore caves. Many states have ordered closures of some public caves to protect the bats, a move that’s been controversial with spelunkers in states like Montana, which have no recorded incidents of white-nose syndrome.

In particular, Montana bats don’t appear to gather in the same kinds of winter colonies as other regions, and the climate here may not be conducive to the spread of the fungus.

The money will go to establishing baseline data on the state’s bat populations and vulnerability.

Montana biologists are still working on how to address the issue at the popular Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. Cave tours have not been changed or modified this season.

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