WNS Liaison Report
to the NSS Board of Governors
29 July 2008

After the March NSS Board of Governors meeting, we began work on the White Nose Syndrome NSS Liaison Project. This report summarizes the first four months of work.

WNS is going to be with us for a while. It continues to kill bats in the Northeast at an alarming rate, with more than 90% of the historic populations gone in some of the cave and mine sites. It has had a significant impact on the endangered Indiana bat population in the region, and has the potential to be catastrophic to the common Little Brown Bat, which has suffered the highest numbers of mortalities. It was hoped that bats that survived the winter would be healthy, but field examinations show a lot of wing damage; tears, holes, dehydration, and white splotches. The cause's and possible solution's remain a mystery. Concern remains high that it may spread to other areas of the country.


* Established an active web site accessed through the NSS home page;

* Provided links to a PowerPoint presentation on WNS and other WNS sites;

* Established an active media digest on WNS to track public coverage;

* Established contacts with scientists and agency personnel working on WNS;

* Issued a detailed report on the NSS Preserves affected by WNS (all re-opened May 15);

* Secured $2,500 in NSS funding to help underwrite the WNS Science Strategy Conference in Albany, NY, June 9-11.

* Posted the pre-conference survey on the WNS Liaison site to permit NSS members to have input on priorities before the conference.

* Actively participated in the WNS Conference, providing daily updates during the sessions, and posting white papers and other information presented at the Conference.

* Joined WNS task forces emanating from the Conference in the areas of public communication, fundraising, and caver decontamination protocols.

* Gained media coverage for the NSS in the closing conference Associated Press story.

* Worked to provide scientific research information to the caving community, and to advocate for caver participation in field work and other activities related to the ongoing WNS investigation.


* Continue communications with scientists and field managers as summer, fall, and winter studies are developed and carried out.

* Post the Albany Science Strategy Conference Proceedings on the Liaison website as soon as they are available.

* Communicate other news and developments to the NSS community through the Liaison website, and other channels, such as the Cave Chat Room, the Conservation Network and the Grottos Network. This includes providing information about opportunities to assist in the field work, research, and funding.

* Continue to update the media digest with current press coverage.

* Participate in the cave decontamination protocol committee, public outreach committee and fundraising committee when they are constituted.

* Participate with other northeastern cavers in field work as projects become available. Having done 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.

* 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 $200 by Aug. 31 ($240 after), 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.

* Work to direct funding for fall entry-of-hibernation studies. This seems paramount to me, and may be an area where the NSS can play a direct role, especially with our own preserves as affected sites.

* Make recommendations, based on the latest available research, on whether NSS preserves ought to close again this fall.

* Continue to respond to NSS board and member questions regarding WNS through the e-mail address wnsliaison@caves.org.


* The main problem at this point is that the conference proceedings are not yet available, now a month after the conclusion of the conference. This is, in part, due to the way the conference was organized; essentially two concurrent conferences, one of scientists, the other of managers (i.e. primarily federal and state fish and wildlife office and field personnel, and cave owners, such as the Northeastern Cave Conservancy). Days one and three were plenary sessions; Day two was separate meetings for the science and manager groups. I was invited to sit with the science group, the NSS having been a major underwriter. On the last day of the conference, the professional facilitators and staff were working hard to fill in all the information on the science strategy workplans, but were not able to complete that work in the time available at the conference. In response to my inquiry last week (July 6), Merlin Tuttle reported that the conference organizing committee had a teleconference with the facilitator and divided up responsibilities for completion. Tom Kunz (Boston College), Paul Cryan (USGS) and Tuttle (three of the six organizers) have circulated first a draft, and now a final document among the scientist participants. This is the document that will list the questions, hypotheses, predictions in need of testing, and protocols for testing the hypotheses. (Note: My lay outlines of what this will include are in the day three summary, which can be found on the conference link on the Liaison website.) Kunz' goal was to have that done for editing by July 10, and the document released by early August. This is a consensus document, which means it only moves as fast as the reviews come back, and they are also running into people's vacation and travel schedules. The problem (and frustration for me and others) is that without this completed document, no one can be publicizing the need for prioritized work, nor organize and advocate for funding in a timely manner.

* In terms of the coordinated field approach, steering 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). They have not yet responded to my July 6 inquiry.

* Lack of detailed field research data from spring and summer work so far. While we read media interviews that include broad statements about WNS, they have not published any detailed reports on the spring and summer work thus far.

* There is no specific funding to date for WNS research. This has hampered targeted work and coordination thereof. Federal and state F&W personnel can only work within their funding streams. The work they have been able to do has been because they have been as creative as they can be in terms of stretching their normal ongoing work to include WNS. However, major funding will be needed to support the hypotheses investigations, including intense hibernacula studies this fall and winter, in both affected and non-affected (control) sites. If the NSS wishes to direct specific funding, for example, to see what the health and weight status of bats going into hibernation is this fall; perhaps at one of our own preserves (Barton Hill/Gage Cave, for example), I know that would be most appreciated by field personnel; and may be the only possible funding source available, given the timelines of government funding streams. If that is something you wish to pursue, I'd be happy to advise further, but you may wish to consider whether this is something to do through the Bat Conservation Fund, for example, or through a separate fund established through the NSF. Time, however, is of the essence in order to obtain and have in place the equipment and human resources needed in time to do the work.

* Caver impatience. While many, if not most, cavers have been very cooperative and understanding (including doing a lot of work in the field in the northeast, observing cave decontamination protocols, offering research, etc.), others have not been. It doesn't take but a few to disregard protocols or to not observe closures tospoil things for everyone else. I strongly urge patience and cooperation. Seriously, researchers have only been working on this for six months, and really only met each other a month ago to share their results and ideas for the first time. We do not know if WNS is something that initially affects bats in their winter hibernacula, or is something they encounter outside during the spring, summer, or fall (for example, are migratory species; tree bats; bringing something here in the summertime? Or is it related to pesticides, as some believe?) We do know they are starving to death. Whether or not they are entering hibernation with sufficient fat stores, or whether something is disturbing their normal arousal patterns (frequency and duration) are things that need further research. I do not think it is reasonable to expect quick magic answers when we really haven't studied even an entire year's cycle. Fortunately, thus far, WNS is contained to the northeast. Nothing yet reported in Canada. While Pennsylvania has some questionable sites, WNS has not been confirmed; but it may be the early stages of what some believe is a two-year cycle. Determining that has broad implications for what happens beyond that; for example in Indiana or West Virginia.


I share the frustration of many with the apparent slow progress on determining a cause of WNS. However, I have come to understand the scientific difficulties as to why that are the case. There are a lot of excellent people who want nothing more than to find an answer and restore the bats to health. I hope you find that the Liaison Project has been of value to the NSS, and more broadly to the caving community. I want to thank Alex Sproul and Mike Warner, in particular, for their excellent and timely work in creating and maintaining the website and posting material. I look forward to continuing to act as your Liaison. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

Peter Youngbaer
NSS 16161