Bat scientists see small signs of hope at Williams Lake - BlueStone Press
June 28, 2017
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Bat scientists see small signs of hope at Williams Lake

Photo by Greel Mine
Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome.
Jacob Anderson, BSP Reporter
Posted

Scientists expressed guarded optimism and determination to continue monitoring the condition of hibernating bats in the region on Tuesday, April 4, at a symposium on white nose syndrome held at the Rosendale Theatre. The fungal disease, which has caused an unprecedented mortality rate in bat populations around Williams Lake, has now been
found in 30 states and five Canadian provinces.
“It has not stopped spreading,” said Department of Environmental Conservation wildlife biologist Carl Herzog, who hopes some of the bats could develop a resistance to the disease. He said the little brown bat population appears to be stabilizing, but he could not
guarantee long-term survival for any of the six hibernating species found in the region.
“It’s entirely possible that we might lose one or more of them completely,” Herzog said.
Around 10 years ago, wildlife biologists counted around 100,000 bats in the abandoned mines around Williams Lake, some of the most populous hibernation sites, or hibernacula, in the Northeast. Several years later, the population had fallen dramatically as a result of white nose syndrome, which causes hibernating bats to burn through their
bodies’ stores of winter energy to quickly and starve to death. Two species found in the region, the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat, have been recognized by the federal government as endangered and threatened, respectively. The populations of the
tricolored bat and little brown bat have shrunk by around 90 percent, according to the DEC.
“This disease is a pain in the butt,” said Al Hicks, who retired from the DEC in 2010 and founded Vesper, a bat consulting firm. Unlike other diseases, Hicks said, white nose syndrome can only be tested once a year, when bats are hibernating. He recently completed an experiment using the fungus trichoderma polysporum as a treatment,
resulting in a small but potentially significant reduction in bat deaths over the winter.
“This isn't earth shattering,” Hicks said. “This was just the first shot.”
Dr. Craig Frank, co-director of environmental science at Fordham University, said big brown bats at Williams Lake were highly resistant to fungus, and shared his findings on the role that certain fatty acids play in inhibiting fungal growth, which he said explained why some species are more resistant than others.
Tim Allred, manager of the Williams Lake development, expressed his “ongoing commitment” to facilitating research and community education, including the symposium, which the Williams Lake Project co-sponsored with the Rondout Esopus Land Conservancy. Allred will oversee the construction of 154 homes, a 130-room hotel, a spa and a fitness center on the nearly 800-acre property, 105 acres of which have been
designated forever-wild under a conservation easement with the Rondout Esopus Land Conservancy, in order to protect the bats’ habitat. Allred said the bats’ designation as endangered “is a complication” to construction, requiring extra precautions for cutting down trees and operating construction equipment near the caves, but that he began
working on the project in 2008 with “eyes wide open” concerning the bats. A self-proclaimed “wannabe biologist” with an M.A. in environmental management, Allred said instruments have been installed in the hibernacula to monitor possible disturbances caused by seismic vibrations from building. He agreed to a “conservative” peak particle
velocity (PPV) threshold of .08 inches per second.
“If we go over the limit I get a text message and we have to stop,” Allred said of the construction. “That has not happened.” He will submit a PPV report to the DEC annually.
“I was interested personally and we were interested professionally in how we managed the land,” he said. He plans to build roads and utilities infrastructure this year and begin residential construction by early 2018.
“At best we’re going to start next year on the hotel,” he said.
Hicks said that humans, likely to blame for bringing the harmful fungus from Africa or Asia, have an obligation to try to mitigate its effects. He noted that bats are not unique. There are other plants and animals, including the American chestnut tree, the hellbender
salamander, the timber rattlesnake and several types of frogs, that have been affected by fungal diseases, which are spreading worldwide with unpredictable and sometimes devastating effects. He also warned about the destructive nature of climate change, which
he said “is going to wipe out entire communities of species.”
“We are in a ton of trouble,” Hicks said, encouraging the audience to
“get your butt outdoors, get your kids outdoors, get your grandkids
outdoors.”
“And never, ever give up,” he said.

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