WNS Liaison Report
to the NSS President
1 October 2008
The NSS White Nose Syndrome Liaison Project continues to make significant progress in its goals to keep the NSS and broader caving community apprised of and directly connected to developments relating to the White Nose Syndrome affecting bats in the northeast. We’ve passed some significant benchmarks as a Project, since the last report. In the field and in the laboratories, the focus has moved back underground and outside caves and mines with the arrival of fall and the seasonal swarming.
- Successfully advocated for the establishment of the White Nose Syndrome Rapid Response Fund to meet critically timed research needs, created by the NSS Board of Governors on August 15. Start-up funding of $10,000 from the NSS and $10,000 from the National Speleological Foundation, plus other contributions created an initial fund of over $24,000;
- Developed application and research protocols for the Rapid Response Fund.
- Made the first research award in the amount of $14,000 to Dr. Thomas Kunz, Boston University, et al, for a fall pre-hibernation study;
- Established lines of communication with NSS personnel regarding grant processing and fund reporting;
- Maintained and updated an active web site accessed through the NSS home page;
- Provided continually updated links to a PowerPoint presentation on WNS and other WNS sites, including an active media digest on WNS to track public coverage;
- Maintained contacts with scientists and agency personnel working on WNS;
- Consulted with all affected NSS Cave Preserve managers, state and federal agency personnel, and scientists regarding fall cave closures;
- Continued to provide scientific research information to the caving community, through the WNS Liaison Website, NSS Cave Chat, and the Conservancies and Grottos networks;
- Continued to advocate for caver participation in fieldwork and other activities related to the ongoing WNS investigation.
- Attend the October 22-25 Scranton, PA conference of the North American Symposium on Bat Research. Although not specifically organized as a WNS conference, WNS is sure to dominate, especially as NE bats will have just entered hibernation. Conference registration is $240, plus $119 per night (3 nights). Meals and mileage not included. I paid for the Albany conference out of pocket, and would appreciate NSS subsidy of this conference if at all possible.
- Review research proposals submitted to the Rapid Response Fund and make recommendations for funding;
- Monitor funded projects and post reports of research activities;
- Publicize and promote the WNS Rapid Response Fund to encourage donations by individuals and environmental organizations;
- Post the Albany Science Strategy Conference Proceedings on the Liaison website if, and when they are available;
- Continue updating all normal activities and communications;
- Closely monitor the status of bats as winter develops to see how WNS is evolving and/or spreading;
- Participate with other northeastern cavers in fieldwork as projects become available. Three mines in NY and VT are proposed for temporary gating to prevent hibernating bats from leaving during the winter. This will enable researchers to examine carcasses. Having done joint projects like this over the winter and spring was key for developing both first hand information about WNS and for establishing relationships with field researchers, primarily federal and state fish and wildlife personnel;
- Continue to make recommendations, based on the latest available research, on the NSS Preserve openings and closures relating to WNS;
- Continue to respond to NSS board and member questions regarding WNS through the e-mail address email@example.com.
- The main problem at this point is the lack of adequate funding to investigate all the possible lines of scientific inquiry. The establishment of the NSS WNS Rapid Response Fund not only was a direct and timely help, but its creation and existence leveraged other funding. Still, much more is needed.
- The June Albany WNS Science Strategy Conference proceedings are still not yet available. Merlin Tuttle and Tom Kunz have worked hard to circulate and get sign-off on these documents, but have not succeeded in getting everyone’s participation yet. We will continue to push for these documents.
- In terms of the coordinated field approach, steering committee, decontamination protocol committee, and other committees set up at the conference, Tuttle reports that this is largely a Fish and Wildlife Service responsibility (the manager’s side of the conference). Organizers here were Jeremy Coleman (USFWS), and Al Hicks (NYDEC). Jeremy has just responded (mid-September) with plans for a conference call that will include several cavers, plus state and federal managers, but the delays have been frustrating. Again, a lot of these falls back to state and federal budget problems, lack of dedicated on-going funding, and competing fish and wildlife management issues, including other endangered species.
- Continued lack of detailed primary source field and laboratory research data. Media accounts lack scientific detail, and provide only a broad brush picture tailored to a general public audience.
The NSS should be very proud of its role so far in the investigation of White Nose Syndrome, and our conservation-oriented response to the plight of the bats that dwell in the caves we love. The quick response last winter in closing some of our caves, the underwriting and participation in the Albany Science Strategy Conference, the presence of the website, and now the creation of the Rapid Response Fund have significantly enhanced the position of the NSS in the eyes of the research and federal and state management communities. We are a true partner in managing this phenomenon.
We do need to continue to urge cavers to clean and decontaminate gear, and to take extra care when traveling between affected and unaffected caves and regions of the country. The fear among the scientists and managers of WNS spreading beyond the northeast this winter is strong and palpable. Now is not the time to take anything for granted.