State could close caves and mines - affects Pierce CountyThe state's Natural Resources Board will be asked tomorrow to close caves and mines if that is necessary to keep fungal disease in bats from spreading. That would effect caves in Pierce County, like the Crystal Cave
The state Natural Resources Board will be asked tomorrow in Madison to close caves and mines if that is necessary to keep fungal disease in bats from spreading.
The board will consider emergency rules to stop the spread of white-nose syndrome, which has killed over a million bats in 14 states and two provinces in Canada. The disease has not been confirmed in Wisconsin yet, but the DNR says it’s just a matter of time – and it wants to be ready.
Commercial cave owners say the rules could put them out of business. Plus, it could also be deadly to the bats in other ways.
"The way we interpreted rules from the DNR, they're saying either you can have bats or you can have public tours, one or the other," said Jean Cunningham of the Crystal Cave in Spring Valley. "If we have tours, we have to seal the caves off from the bats. But bats are very loyal to their caves and if you seal them off, especially in the fall when they look to hibernate, then they'll expend more energy trying to get back in their caves than find new ones and they'll die of exposure in the cold weather."
Cunningham says white-nose disease is spread from bat to bat and there's little scientific evidence humans have anything to do with the transmission of the disease. She also said there is little the DNR can do to stop its spread.
"They can't stop it. They need to spend money on research trying to find a cure for it, not sealing up caves or removing bats by hand," Cunningham said.
She also said many scientists, wildlife groups and cave organizations have written letters to the Natural Resources Board protesting the proposed policies.
DNR officials say the closure of caves would only be a last resort to be imposed if the owners don’t cooperate with the agency.
Last month, the Natural Resources Board agreed to designate four types of cave bats as protected species. Among other things, officials say the bats are vital because they eat insects that can damage farm crops.