White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a fungal disease that has devastated bat populations in eastern North America, killing an estimated six million bats since 2006. In March 2016, Washington's first case of WNS was confirmed 30 miles east of Seattle.
WNS is primarily spread by bat-to-bat contact. Pets, other animals, and humans and their equipment—including clothing, footwear, and gear—can transfer spores of the fungus to new locations. The disease is not known to pose a threat to humans, pets, or other animal species.
The Deschutes National Forest, wants to specifically highlight that for visitors going to Lava River Cave no item (shoes, clothing, gear, cameras, etc.) used in any other cave or mine (anywhere including on the Deschutes) is allowed in the cave and people must clean and disinfect their items before going in any other cave or mine after Lava River Cave.
To avoid the spread of WNS, federal land management and state wildlife agencies ask that visitors to bat-friendly locations—such as caves, rock cliffs, buildings, talus areas, talus caverns, mines, or human-made structures—follow these important recommendations:
- Whenever possible, avoid disturbing bats and entering areas where bats may be living. This includes abandoned mines, caves, and abandoned buildings and structures.
- Do not handle bats, as they have reduced energy and fat stores in the spring following a lengthy hibernation. Some bats can carry the rabies virus, a deadly disease carried by less than 1% of Pacific Northwest bats.
- Report sick, injured, and dead bats, or groups of bats. In Washington, report such findings to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife at www.wdfw.wa.gov/bats. In Oregon, report to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/wildlife/health_program/WNS/reporting.asp or call the ODFW toll free line at 866-968-2600.
- Prohibit dogs from accessing areas where bats may be roosting.
- People who come into contact with areas where bats live should follow these steps to keep from spreading the WNS fungus: 2
- Clean shoes and clothing of any dirt or mud before entering and after exiting a cave or climbing area, and change into clean clothing and shoes before entering a vehicle to leave.
- Wear different footwear at each visit to a cave or climbing area, unless completely cleaned after each visit.
- Wash hands and exposed skin after each visit to a cave or climbing area.
- Wash clothing, hats, gear, and shoes worn in caves in hot, soapy water at 131ºF (55ºC) or hotter for at least 20 minutes. Clean equipment that cannot be washed with alcohol wipes if the wipes will not damage the equipment.
Bats play an important role in a healthy environment and economy, eating tons of crop and forest pests and saving farmers billions of dollars each year.
Additional resources and information may be found at www.whitenosesyndrome.org.