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Bat Conservation in Georgia

Georgia Cave Advisories, Closures

State Issues White-nose Caution: Disinfect Gear, Limit Caving

SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. (January 2010) -- To minimize risks from the epidemic white-nose syndrome, the Wildlife Resources Division is urging cavers to reduce trips to Georgia caves and follow federal guidelines for disinfecting clothes and gear.

The syndrome discovered in New York in 2006 has killed an estimated 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats. Named for the fungus Geomyces destructans often found on the muzzles of affected bats, white-nose, also known as WNS, apparently arouses bats during hibernation, causing them to use fat reserves and leading to starvation. (Update: White-nose was found in Georgia in February 2013.)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends closing caves in states where the syndrome is confirmed and in adjacent states. The Wildlife Resources Division has considered some closures – most state-lands caves are on Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area in Walker County – but chose voluntary limits after weighing research, the resource and public interests.

There are few known large bat hibernacula or significant maternity caves on state lands, although bats hibernate in many of the caves. At WNS information meetings held by the Wildlife Resources Division in 2010, cavers voiced concern about white-nose. Yet most opposed mandatory closures, questioning the effectiveness and potential economic, enforcement and safety issues.

Wildlife Resources will work with caving groups and post signs to emphasize fewer trips and strict adherence to Fish and Wildlife Service decontamination protocols. Studies suggest that Geomyces destructans can be transmitted by bats and possibly from gear used in affected sites.

The division will also seek cavers’ help in spreading the word about white-nose and monitoring and evaluating caves on state lands. Some grotto members have volunteered to set up weekend decontamination stations at Crockford-Pigeon Mountain WMA, where Pettijohn’s and Ellison’s caves draw thousands of visitors combined.

The cautions are part of Wildlife Resources’ white-nose response plan. The document outlines steps for raising awareness about the syndrome, slowing its spread, reporting and analyzing bats, and managing caves. About 15 percent of Georgia’s caves are on state-managed lands.

Recommendations will be evaluated in a year, or sooner if new information is available.

Some caves have been closed in Georgia to try and prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome. For more information or a listing of closed caves in Georgia, please visit Dogwood City Grotto. Click here for a copy of the U.S. Forest Service cave-closure policy and here for a related press release.

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