Information for members of the media
February 2011 Asheville Field Office press releases, story ideas, and media advisories
February 9, 2011
Malady deadly to bats found in North Carolina
White-nose syndrome, the disease that has killed hundreds of thousands of bats in the Eastern United States, has been discovered in a retired Avery County mine and in a cave at Grandfather Mountain State Park, marking the arrival of the disease in North Carolina.
“White-nose syndrome is confirmed in Virginia and Tennessee, so we expected we would be one of the next states to see the disease,” said Gabrielle Graeter, a biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “This discovery marks the arrival of one of the most devastating threats to bat conservation in our time.”
Although scientists have yet to fully understand white-nose syndrome, current knowledge indicates it’s likely caused by a newly discovered fungus, Geomyces destructans , which often grows into white tufts on the muzzles of infected bats, hence the disease’s name. The first evidence of this fungus was collected in a New York state cave in 2006. Since then, it appears to have spread north into Canada and as far south as Tennessee, which reported its first occurrence last winter, and now North Carolina. In the Northeast, the disease has decimated some species of bats. It seems to be most fatal during the winter months, when hundreds of bats are hibernating together in caves and mines. It’s not known if the disease will similarly affect all species in all regions of the country, though bat mortality and the diversity of species affected in the Northeast suggest the impacts will be significant.
On Feb. 1, a team of Commission biologists were conducting a bat inventory of the closed mine where they saw numerous bats displaying symptomatic white patches of fungus on their skin. Five bats from the mine were sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study unit at the University of Georgia for testing, which confirmed the presence of white-nose syndrome.
In late January, a team of state, federal, and private biologists were conducting a bat inventory of a cave at Grandfather Mountain when they discovered a single dead bat. Following state white-nose syndrome surveillance protocols, the bat was sent for testing and it has been confirmed for white-nose syndrome.
The discovery of white-nose syndrome comes as Commission biologists work through bat inventory and white-nose syndrome surveillance efforts at numerous caves and mines in western North Carolina this winter as part of a grant awarded by the Service to several states on the leading edge of the disease’s spread.
North Carolina is home to three federally endangered bats, the Virginia big-eared, Indiana, and gray. Virginia big-eared bats are known from the Grandfather Mountain cave and have been seen in the Avery county mine, though not recently. Thus far, the disease has not been observed in Virginia big-eared bats farther north, however it has greatly impacted Indiana bat populations at infected caves and mines. Both of the North Carolina sites have Eastern small-footed, little brown, Northern long-eared, and tri-colored bats while big brown bats are also found at the mine – all bat species that have been affected to some degree by white-nose syndrome in the Northeast.
“The discovery does not bode well for the future of many species of bats in western North Carolina,” said Sue Cameron with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “Although researchers are working hard to learn more about the disease, right now so little is known. There has been some evidence that humans may inadvertently spread the disease from cave to cave, so one simple step people can take to help bats is to stay out of caves and mines.”
“Cavers are passionate about what they do and we truly understand that asking them to stay out of caves is no small request and we greatly appreciate their sacrifice,” said Cameron, noting that the western North Carolina caving club, Flittermouse Grotto, has been very supportive of efforts to protect the area’s bats.
In 2009, fearing the disease could be transferred from cave to cave by humans, the Service released a cave advisory asking people to refrain from entering caves in states where white-nose syndrome has been confirmed and all adjoining states. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission holds a protective easement on the mine and both it and the Grandfather Mountain cave have been gated and closed to the public for years to protect hibernating bats.
For more information about white-nose syndrome, visit http://www.fws.gov/whitenosesyndrome.
Photos can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast/sets/72157625882981881/
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February 4, 2011
Former farmland being restored to one of Appalachia’s rarest habitats
At first glance it appears to be merely a patch of woods and farm field beside an established Flat Rock neighborhood. However, to biologists it’s Ochlawaha bog, a degraded remnant of one of the rarest natural communities in North America, and it’s in the beginning stages of a resurgence.
“Because they’re so rare, each Southern Appalachian bog is extremely important. The conservation and restoration of Ochlawaha bog is something we’ve been working toward for years and we’re thrilled this effort is coming to fruition.” said Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy Executive Director Kieran Roe.
Biologists estimate around 500 acres of Southern Appalachian bogs remain, and their importance is heightened by the fact they’re often home to greatly imperiled species. An endangered plant, bunched arrowhead, was recently known from Ochlawaha bog, and biologists expect the work here will enable the plant to thrive at this site in the future.
Today, what’s left of the bog is sheltered in a small grove of trees separated from the farm field by drainage ditch that flows into Mud Creek. Infrared imagery shows that a stream once meandered across the farm field, which is now framed by the ditch on one side and a straightened Mud Creek on the other. The forested tracts of the bog have been owned by the N.C. Plant Conservation Program and the Conservancy for years. In 2009, the Conservancy purchased the north end of the adjacent farm field, setting in motion the project to restore the bog.
A pair of yellow excavators can be seen moving earth in a long process to return the field to a natural area, which includes: excavating a broad swath of the farm field to expose wetland soils and allow the land to return to wetlands; setting a portion of the straightened stream on a meandering path through the field; and ensuring the project doesn’t increase flooding on neighboring property. By hand, workers have planted native trees and are controlling invasive plants. In the forested section of the bog, a degraded stream will be reconstructed to help ensure the wetland receives sufficient water.
Ochlawaha bog sits in a broad, flat swath of Henderson County centered on Mud Creek. Biologists believe this area once contained the greatest expanse of wetlands in the Southern Appalachians.
“Unfortunately, for years we drained our wetlands and converted them to other uses. What we’ve learned is that wetlands play some extremely important roles on the landscape. They help with flood control by slowing floodwaters and allowing them to soak into the ground. The plants and soil filter water and in the process clean it.” explained Megan Mailloux, the Conservancy’s project manager for the project
Anita Goetz, with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service added, “The restoration and protection of Ochlawaha Bog is the culmination of many people working together who recognized the significance of the site, who worked to ensure its permanent conservation, and who had a vision for restoring this important part of the landscape. This project will provide habitat not only for bunched arrowhead, but for a plethora of birds and other wildlife.”
In addition to the Conservancy and the N.C. Plant Conservation Program, the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund ensured permanent conservation of the property, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund have helped finance the restoration. Asheville non-profit Western North Carolina Alliance was contracted to work on invasive exotic plant control, while North Carolina firm Wolf Creek Engineering, PLLC designed the restoration plan and North State Environmental, Inc. is doing the on-the-ground stream and wetland shaping. Numerous volunteers have planted trees and helped eradicate invasive, exotic species at the site.
Photos can be found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwssoutheast/sets/72157625967918580/
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