Archive for the ‘Green News’ Category

What’s the Buzz About Pollinators?

bumblebee

By: Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day AllianceEaton Conservation District

Pollinators have been making news headlines lately. There has been a greater push from the federal government for programs and funding supporting pollinator habitat. More research is being done on honeybee colony collapse syndrome. And recently, the rusty patched bumblebee has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

So what’s the big deal about pollinators? Why should we care? Let’s look at some facts:

  • More than 100,000 different animal species play roles in pollinating the 250,000 kinds of flowering plants on this planet. Insects (bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, flies, and beetles) are the most common, but as many as 1,500 species of birds and mammals also play a role. Vertebrate pollinators include: bats, hummingbirds, perching birds, lemurs, and even one lizard (gecko).
  • At least 3 bat, 5 bird, 24 butterflies/skippers/moths, 1 beetle, and 1 fly species identified as pollinators are federally endangered.in the United States.
  • Honey bees (the most commonly known pollinator) help pollinate approximately $10 billion worth of crops in the United States each year.
  • Honey bees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America.
  • 15% of the crops that make up the world’s food supply are pollinated by honey bees. At least 80% are pollinated by wild bees and other wildlife.
  • Globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops are dependent on animal pollinators. This contributes 35% of global food production.
  • Declines in pollinators may make plants more vulnerable to extinction.
  • Pollinators support biodiversity. It’s been proven through studies. There is a correlation between plant diversity and pollinator diversity. Put simply, the more kinds of pollinators you have in an area, the more kinds of plants you will have.
  • Native bees are often more efficient at pollinating than commercially used European honey bees. Crops like blueberries and squash have bees that specialize on those plants and have developed better ways to dislodge pollen from their flowers.

Shall we go on? We could, there are more facts just like this out there. The point is, pollinators are important. We don’t often see the work they do, but we wouldn’t be able to continue our standard of life without them. Many of the food and fiber products we use every day depend on them.

Fortunately for us, there are a lot of ways to help our native pollinators. Whether you have an entire homestead or just an urban backyard, every little bit helps. After all, think about what you’re helping. Some of these pollinating insects don’t take up much space. 🙂

Here are a few tips to help you on your way. There are additional resources at the end of this article as well if you want to dive deeper.

  1. Use pollinator-friendly plants. Native plants are best, as these are the ones your native pollinators prefer. Shrubs and trees such as dogwood, cherry, willow, and poplar provide pollen or nectar in early spring when food is scarce.
  2. Choose a mixture of plants. Different flower colors, shapes, and scents will attract a wide variety of pollinators. Look into bloom times for plants and have a variety so there’s always something out there for them in every growing season.
  3. Reduce or eliminate pesticide use in your landscape. Use them correctly and sparingly. Better yet, incorporate plants that attract beneficial insects for pest control (here are some websites that will help with that: 26 plants for attracting beneficial insects; Native plants for attracting predatory insects, New Moon Nursery; MSU Extension bulletin: Attracting beneficial insects with native flowering plants (pdf)).
  4. Accept some plant damage. Unfortunately, it’ll happen. You’re attracting insects like butterflies and moths whose larval stage may take a bite out of your plants. Your garden may not be picture perfect, but it’ll be perfect for them.
  5. Provide clean water. Pollinators need butterflies like water just like any other animal. A shallow dish, bowl, or bird bath with half-submerged stones will help. Just keep an eye on any standing water source as you will still have a breeding ground for mosquitoes if you don’t.
  6. Leave dead tree trunks. These help wood-nesting bees and beetles.
  7. Support land conservation in your community. Help create and maintain community gardens and green spaces to ensure there’s good habitat around for your growing pollinator populations.

Pollinator Resources:

References:

  1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Pollinators: https://www.fws.gov/pollinators/pollinatorpages/aboutpollinators.html
  2. White House Press Release, 6-20-2014, Fact Sheet: The Economic Challenge Posed by Declining Pollinator Populations
  3. Mother Nature Network, 9 extraordinary facts about North America’s native bees: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/stories/9-extraordinary-facts-about-north-americas-native-bees
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The Wonderful World of Water

What are trees without water? Well, most of them would probably be dead. Trees rely on water and at the same time water relies on trees. Trees serve as natural filters, cleaning our groundwater before it runs into our lakes, rivers and streams. Their root systems also hold dirt together, keeping in where it belongs instead of running into our waterways during major rainstorms or flooding events. The bottom line? Trees and water are interconnected.

Yet there are all kinds of ways WE can help our water. Just like we can help our forests by looking out for pest insects, not moving wood around, or planting and caring for trees, there are lots of simple things we can do every day to help our water. Water is precious and needs to be protected just as much. Like the trees, we are also dependent on clean water to live, grow and prosper.

There is a great resource out there to get all the water-related information you could need. The Michigan Water Stewardship program encourages individuals to take proactive, voluntary steps to protect our water quality while also protecting other valuable natural resources and caring for our family’s health.

This website offers all of its resources for free. For the adults there are articles, informational bulletins and tip sheets, a whole host of environment-themed “courses” to take to test your knowledge, a Green News section that will keep you up to date on what’s going on around the Great Lakes, and a list of helpful local organizations if you need help. And since children don’t really want to read a lengthy article or care about homeownership tips, there are fun videos, songs, activities, and online games that both entertain and educate (who says education has to be boring?).

MWSP Home Screen

So take a moment and check out the website. No matter how much you know about our water, there always new things to discover!

#TheBigTree: The History of a 1,000 Year Old Tree

There aren’t many things in this world that will live to see 1,000, but a coastal live oak has earned the title. The tree has such a devoted following it even has its own hashtag (#TheBigTree). It has become an iconic backdrop for photos for generations of visitors to Goose Island State Park in Rockport, Texas.

And it’s an impressive sight. Standing 44 feet tall with an 89 foot crown, its endurance is no small feat. Part of the reason it has survived as long as it has is luck, the other part, human protections. It has been named the State Champion live oak and is also one of the largest of its kind in the nation. It is simply amazing to think about all this tree has witnessed during its long life.

Read about the tree’s history in the article below.

 

Thousand-year-old tree preserved in Goose Island State Park

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GABE HERNANDEZ/CALLER-TIMES Park Ranger Janelle Rand walks around the Big Tree Jan. 13 at Goose Island State Park in Rockport.

By Esther Hackleman, Corpus Christie Caller Times, Original Article Here

Jan. 20, 2016

ROCKPORT — Hurricanes. Wildfires. Droughts. Humans. Through it all, a coastal live oak known simply as The Big Tree remains.

Rooted for more than 1,000 years the iconic tree is the darling of Goose Island State Park and backdrop of family photos spanning decades.

The tree is so beloved, it has its own hashtag — #TheBigTree — and saw about 151,000 visitors last year.

“How often do you get to see a 1,000-year-old tree?” asked Houston native Carolyn Bardin. Bardin admired the tree’s gnarly limbs and impressive crown, which spans 89 feet into the air.

The green state park sign at Bardin’s hip said the tree stood while Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Piñeda mapped the Texas coastline in the 1500s. It stood while Union troops burned the town of Lamar less than a mile away during the Civil War.

It stood while Bardin snapped a photo with her cellphone.

“We need to preserve it as long as possible,” Bardin said. “It’s showing its age.”

Long before the state began acquiring the land for the now 402-acre park in 1931, forces were at work to keep the tree standing.

The tree’s natural preservation is due in part to its location, Park Ranger Janelle Rand said.

Nestled amid a gathering of live oaks that provide a barrier from harsh winds, The Big Tree has survived anywhere from 40 to 50 hurricanes, park rangers estimate.

That protection is enhanced by the elevated land, which keeps saltwater from drowning the base of the tree though it stands near Saint Charles Bay.

On the other hand, if the ground receives less than 2 inches of rain per month, park rangers will bring out a 500-gallon tank to water the tree. During heavy droughts, volunteer firefighters from surrounding departments have quenched its thirst.

The Big Tree surprised park rangers Jan. 8 when an acorn seedling sprouted less than 20 feet from its trunk. The Big Tree sprout came after one of the Coastal Bend’s rainiest years on record.

“Often it’s hard to measure the health of the tree other than comparing it to the ones around it, but the fact that it sprouted acorns is special for a tree its age,” Rand said.

Park rangers are not the one only celebrating the continued life of the tree. Each year, the South Texas Alliance of Indigenous People gather to bless the tree. Its prayer ceremony continues a tradition of respect and awareness often lost on a generation preoccupied with technology, Larry “Running Turtle” Salazar said.

“There are lessons within the tree,” said Salazar, who has been attending the Blessing of The Big Tree since he was a boy. “There’s teachings within the whispers of the wind that so many have forgotten.”

The Big Tree continues to stand, sharing those lessons in silence with those who visit, Salazar said.

“If you stop and listen, you will feel it.”

 

THE BIG TREE FACTS

The Big Tree at Goose Island State Park was named the State Champion Coastal Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) and is one of the largest in the nation.

Trunk circumference: 35 feet 1.75 inches

Average trunk diameter: 11 feet 2.25 inches

Crown spread: 89 feet

Height: 44 feet

The wires seen throughout its limbs provide support and serve as a lightning rod.

The Big Tree has scars from a beehive and two large branches felled by a hurricane.

A fence prevents the soil from getting too compact from footsteps, which could keep the tree from receiving water and nutrients.

Source: Goose Island State Park

Student Driven – How an Outdoor Classroom Came to Holt, MI

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”

That quote by cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead came to mind as I read this article. It should never be underestimated what one small group of passionate people can do. This is especially true of children. Youth often get overlooked when it comes to large-scale community projects and ideas. Their young age and inexperience often puts them at a disadvantage, their voices overshadowed by those of authority figures. Yet it only takes one to actually listen to accomplish great things.

That is exactly what happened in Holt, Michigan, where an abandoned playground space at a local middle school became something the students describe as “magical.”

Holt’s outdoor classroom born of creativity, generosity

Curt Smith, csmith@lsj.com, Lansing State Journal

September 15, 2015 Original article

HOLT – There’s a new classroom at Hope Middle School, and it has no windows.

It lacks walls, too, and the closest thing to a ceiling is a pine tree keeping young learners in the shade during still-summery September days.

And the kids love it. In fact, it was their idea.

Not too long ago, that open space on the south side of the school was a playground for a day-care center. The facility moved on, and the playground was dismantled.

Only scattered woodchips were there to mark a place where children once had fun.

But Hope students saw an opportunity and were bursting with ideas. An outdoor classroom won out.

Youthful energy and creativity – and a local business’s generous donation of money and labor –  made it happen.

Putting it together

Katie Bielecki, who teacher English language arts and social studies, said Hope kids had been mulling possible uses for the space for about three years. When an outdoor classroom appeared to be the way to go – “for their learning and the betterment of the school,” as Bielecki put it – they planned, drafted budgets and even wrote grant proposals.

The work paid off with $1,400 in grant money from the Holt Education Foundation, which partners with the school district to sponsor innovative classroom projects.

And it wasn’t just work. The kids were learning, too.

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Hope Middle School sixth-graders get the school’s outdoor classroom ready for the school year. The open space gives them a place to learn, plan and gather. (Photo: Rod Sanford/Lansing State Journal)

“This became a project-based learning for them,” said Kristin Hundt, who also teaches English language arts and social studies. “They wrote grants, which was language arts. They measured the space, which had a math connection. We talked about what kinds of plants and what kinds of living organisms could be out here to connect to science.”

Aiding in the other disciplines are Kellie Huhn and Danielle Smith, who teach math and science.

But the skills were needed from outside the classroom and in the spring it came from just down the street.

Enter Hayhoe Contracting Services.

“One of my staff went to the school to look at a different project,” owner Amanda Hayhoe-Kruger said. “Katie kind of took him aside and said, ‘I have an idea for an outdoor classroom’ and was wondering if we’d be interested in hearing more about it.”

When it came time to meet, the children’s zeal impressed the businesswoman and teachers alike. Sketches and diagrams indicated just what the students were looking for.

“She answered their questions,” Bielecki said of Hayhoe-Kruger. “She was inspired, I guess, by their passion and knowledge, and that they had done some homework before this meeting.

“Sometimes we underestimate the power of kids.”

Hayhoe-Kruger agreed: “They were super excited that there were actually adults other than their teachers who were willing to take the time to listen to them and help them with it.”

Giving back

Her company ended up donating $6,000 in labor and materials. Old car and equipment tires were used as table bases, and stools and benches were made from trees cut down after a storm. There are raised beds for gardening.

“Amanda and her group were just amazing,” Bielecki said.

“I live in Holt, my business is located in Holt, I grew up in Holt and just decided this would be a great way for us to give back to the community,” Hayhoe-Kruger said.

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Weeding is the priority as the Hope Middle School (Holt) sixth graders in teachers Kristin Hundt and Katie Bielecki’s classroom clean up in the school’s outdoor classroom to help get it ready for the school year (Photo: Rod Sanford/Lansing State Journal)

In all, including the grant money, about $7,500 was spent on developing the outdoor classroom. Bielecki said there’s still $900 left to inspire more ideas.

The work was finished by the end of spring break, giving Hope students about six weeks to plan, study, learn and gather outside.

With the current school year just underway at Hope, the outdoor classroom has been used only once so far. Weeds, thanks to a rainy summer, were evident.

On Monday, about 30 sixth-graders were pulling them.

Still, the place is a hit with the kids.

“I think of it as more of a study place after school,” said Leilani Ibrahim, 11. “It’s really creative.”

“It’s like a magical place. It’s like a fairy tale,” said Alshoun Jones, also 11.

“You can read, learn and just treat yourself out here.”

Help Out Bees and Other Pollinators in Your Own Backyard

Pollinators have been making news. We depend on the numerous insects, birds, and mammals for the majority of the food we eat every day. These creatures serve a vital part of the ecosystem, but they’re disappearing fast.

In North America, most of our pollinators are of the insect variety – native bees, honeybees (and yes, honeybees are not native to the United States), beetles, flies, butterflies, etc. While much of the news stories have been focused on the large-scale problem and several large-scale solutions, there are several things you at home can do to help out pollinators in your very own backyard. No matter the size, any help at all is useful. Think of it this way, if everyone in your neighborhood planted one small plot of native wildflowers, or put one bee block (aka bee hotel), all of those small things would add up to a LOT of good habitat for our little insect friends.

National Geographic has put together a list of 9 simple things you can do at home. Bonus: many of these things help out more than just the pollinators.

9 Ways You Can Help Bees and Other Pollinators At Home

This week the White House released new strategies to boost the insects so crucial to our food supply. Here’s how you can do your part to support pollinators at home.

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By Jennifer S. Holland, National Geographic

If you like to eat, you can thank insects—in particular, pollinators such as honeybees, which provide much of the U.S. food supply. Sadly, pollinators in the United States have been in crisis for more than a decade.

Beekeepers continue to report major hive losses each year, while many native bees and other pollinating insects are likely in steep decline—for a host of reasons. This week the White House weighed in on how to make things better, releasing a new National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators. (Related: “Obama Unveils Plan to Reverse Alarming Decline of Honeybees.”)

Meanwhile, are there things the rest of us can do to help relieve pollinators’ plight?

Absolutely, says Ed Spevak, curator of invertebrates and director of the Center for Native Pollinator Conservation at the St. Louis Zoo in Missouri. He talked to National Geographic about the best ways regular folks with lawns and gardens, wherever they live, can help the birds and the bees (and the butterflies).

Go Native

Choose native plants in a variety of shapes and colors to encourage diversity. Remember that native wildflowers will be better adapted to your climate than exotics. And one size doesn’t fit all: There are over 4,000 bee species in North America (some 20,000 worldwide) ranging from two millimeters to an inch (2.5 centimeters) long, so blossoms should vary in species and size, too. (Read “Quest for a Superbee” in National Geographic magazine.)

Keep It Blooming

Among your native plants, make sure something is blooming each season (spring, summer, and fall). Some bee species are active all year, others only in April and May, still others in July and August, and all need to feed regardless of the date.

Save the Queen

Newly emerging bumblebee queens need spring-blooming flowers, shrubs, and trees. Bumblebees, unlike, honeybees, have an annual cycle. New queens are born in the fall, and after breeding they find a place to hibernate for the winter. When the insects emerge in spring, they need nectar and pollen sources—or they can’t start their colonies. (See beautiful, intimate portraits of bees.)

Plant Milkweed

Adding milkweed to your garden provides food for monarch butterfly caterpillars, but don’t forget nectar sources for the adults, such as flowers that bloom in late summer. Adults get especially hungry in the fall as they head south to their overwintering sites in Mexico.

Save Money on Mulch

Leave a little bare ground. Most species of bees are solitary, and some 70 percent of them dig a nest in the ground to raise their young—something they can’t do if mulch is in the way (Read more about creating a sustainable home and garden.)

Picture of man opening beehive on a honeybee farm

Bret Adee opens a beehive in Lost Hills, California, home to Adee Honey Farms, the world’s largest commercial beekeeping operation.
Photograph by Anand Varma, National Geographic

Offer Bee Real Estate

Install a bee block or bee hotel, which are available online or at some garden stores. (Or, build one yourself.) You could also drill holes of varying sizes in a dead tree that’s still standing (if beetles haven’t done it for you). This offers habitat to the many bee species that nest in pre-existing holes.

Make a Border

By bordering your fruits and vegetables with native flowers, you’ll improve pollination of your crops and also support bees when the crops stop blooming. It will also attract and support other pollinators such as wasps and hover flies that control crop pests. (See National Geographic’s list of the world’s top 10 gardens.)

Go Easy on the Chemicals

Pesticides can affect more than pests. Adding plants that draw natural pest-eaters (see above) and “companion planting”—including plants that naturally repel pests, such as garlic for aphids and basil for tomatoes—are good strategies to reduce chemical needs, according to organic gardeners. Maintaining healthy soil to keep plants’ immune systems strong can also help.

Get Involved

Learn more about organizations that support pollinators and their habitats, such as Pollinator Partnership or the Honeybee Health Coalition. You can also participate in citizen-science programs for pollinators such as Bumble Bee Watch (Xerces Society), The Great Sunflower Project (San Francisco State University), Fourth of July Butterfly Count (North American Butterfly Association), and the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (Monarch Watch).

Long-Eared Bat Added to Endangered Species List

Michigan DNR applauds USFWS northern long-eared bat decision

 
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Press Release


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 1, 2015

Contact: Dan Kennedy, Michigan DNR endangered species coordinator, 517-284-6194
or Ed Golder, Michigan DNR public information officer, 517-284-5815

Michigan DNR applauds U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s northern long-eared bat decision

northern long-eared batToday the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced that it is listing the northern long-eared bat as a threatened species with an interim 4(d) rule under the Endangered Species Act. The interim 4(d) rule provides maximum benefit to the species while also providing reasonable limits to regulations.

“Michigan and other states worked collaboratively to provide critical information as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service evaluated the status of the northern long-eared bat,” said Keith Creagh, Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) director.

“The decision to list the bat as threatened with an interim 4(d) rule represents a biologically sound determination that will address the conservation needs of these bats in the specific areas of Michigan where they are found, while providing flexibility for those who live and work within the bats’ range,” Creagh added. “Looking ahead, we expect to continue working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as we focus on finding the right solutions to this conservation challenge.”

The Michigan DNR and other Midwestern state natural resource agencies support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s interim 4(d) rule because it allows states to conserve and protect the northern long-eared bat while continuing normal forest management activities and routine right-of-way maintenance. The decision should reduce the potential economic impact of the northern long-eared bat listing to the forestry and transportation industry.

Populations of northern long-eared bats have drastically declined due to white-nose syndrome, which has killed an estimated 5.5 million bats in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Canada. The fungus that causes this disease thrives in low temperatures and high humidity – conditions commonly found in caves and mines where northern long-eared bats hibernate. In Michigan, white-nose syndrome has been confirmed in eight counties: Alpena, Dickinson, Keweenaw, Mackinac, Marquette, Ontonagon, Clare and Manistee.

In Michigan, the interim 4(d) rule allows certain activities that are considered a conservation benefit to northern long-eared bats as long as these activities:

  • Occur more than .25 miles from a known, northern long-eared bat occupied hibernacula.
  • Avoid cutting or destroying known, northern long-eared bat occupied maternity roost trees during the pup-rearing season (June 1-July 31).
  • Avoid clearcuts within .25 miles of known, northern long-eared bat occupied maternity roost trees during the pup-rearing season (June 1-July 31).

These conservation measures are designed to protect bats when they are most vulnerable, including when they occupy hibernacula and during the two-month pup-rearing season from June through July. The greatest potential restrictions would be during these months, with reduced restrictions at all other times.

Activities that are allowed when the above listed measures are followed include:

  • Forest management.
  • Maintenance and expansion of existing rights-of-way and transmission corridors.
  • Prairie management.
  • Minimal tree removal projects.
  • Removal of hazardous trees for protection of life and property.
  • Removal of northern long-eared bats from human structures.
  • Research-related activities.

Over the past 18 months, the Michigan DNR has provided leadership on this issue by:

  • Nationally, working with regional forestry and wildlife state agency associations to develop reasonable and appropriate conservation measures that benefit the northern long-eared bat and allow for sustainable natural resource management in Michigan.
  • Regionally, assisting the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the Northeastern Area Association of State Foresters with developing and submitting scientifically sound recommendations to the U.S. Fish Wildlife Service on the proposed northern long-eared bat listing.
  • Leading the effort (sponsored by the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies) to convene a three-day, state-led northern long-eared bat conference that helped state natural resource agencies discuss scientifically based recommendations for the USFWS on the northern long-eared bat final listing decision.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the public comment period April 2, 2015, to continue evaluating the interim 4(d) rule. A final decision on the interim 4(d) rule is expected by December 2015.

To learn more about the northern long-eared bat and the final listing determination, visit the USFWS website http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/mammals/nlba/.

To learn more about the history and background of white-nose syndrome in Michigan, visit the DNR website www.michigan.gov/wns.


The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.

There May Be a Silver Lining for North American Bats

If you have read any of the stories about bats and white-nose syndrome the last few years it has all been rather depressing. It seemed like the disease kept spreading, wiping out bat populations by the millions. There has even been talk of putting a couple of species on the Endangered Species List because of it.

But amidst all the gloom and doom there seems to be a ray of hope. Bat populations in previously infected areas seem to be rebounding…slightly, but still it’s an improvement. These are areas where researchers feared bats would be wiped out completely, never to return, and yet they still persist. Scientists are also getting closer and closer to discovering the causes that cause the fungus to kill bats in the first place.

So all may not be lost for our beloved North American bats. Keep the faith.

 

Good News For Bats! Things Are Looking Up For Stemming Disease Spread

January 13, 2015 3:33 AM ET

This October 2008 photo, provided by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, shows a brown bat with its nose crusted in fungus.

This October 2008 photo, provided by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, shows a brown bat with its nose crusted in fungus. Ryan von Linden/AP hide caption

  

The bat disease known as white-nose syndrome has been spreading fast, killing millions of animals. But for the first time, scientists are seeing hopeful signs that some bat colonies are recovering and new breakthroughs could help researchers develop better strategies for helping bats survive.

Back in 2009, it seemed dire. In Vermont, the floor of the Aeolus Cave in the Green Mountains was carpeted with tiny bat bodies and their delicate bones. Scientists like Scott Darling with Vermont’s Fish and Wildlife Department were shaken by the carnage.

“This is just far more than I expected. It’s way more, so many more dead bats here,” Darling said then.

The first case of white-nose syndrome was found in Schoharie, N.Y. This map shows the cases detected since then. To enlarge, click here.

The first case of white-nose syndrome was found in Schoharie, N.Y. This map shows the cases detected since then. To enlarge, click here. Lindsey Heffernan/PA Game Commission hide caption

 

Scientists say a quarter-million animals have died here since white-nose syndrome was first identified in 2007, many of their tiny faces crusted with the white fungus that gives this disease its name. But on a recent trip to the cave, bats are still living here, though the population is much smaller.

Jonathan Reichard, national assistant coordinator for white-nose syndrome for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was part of a team that recently caught and inspected bats at Aeolus Cave.

“It’s a little bit of a curveball to be here today, six years after being here and seeing all the dead bats, to think that there are still bats in there,” Reichard says.

He feared that this disease might exterminate the animals, sweeping them from large parts of North America. “The declines in that species have slowed down or even reversed in some cases. There’s evidence that colonies may even be increasing at a slight tick,” Reichard says.

There’s other good news. While researchers study the tough little holdouts here in Vermont, a wildlife veterinarian at the University of Wisconsin has been cracking the code on how exactly white-nose syndrome kills these animals. The study’s lead author, Michelle Verant, says the fungus causes bats’ bodies to overheat, burning energy too quickly.

“The amount of fat energy that bats affected with white-nose syndrome used was twice as much as the healthy bats,” she says.

Verant says hibernating bats begin to starve. Some flee into the deadly cold searching for more food.

She thinks her work, funded by the U.S. Geological Survey, could help point the way toward helping more bats survive. Scientists are scrambling to develop targeted fungicides that might kill white nose outright. In the meantime, Verant says wildlife managers need to make sure bats are healthy and plump before they go into the caves for the winter.

“The best thing that we can do right now is supporting bats with good habitat and reducing those additional stressors,” she says.

As this disease spreads west, Verant’s findings will play a big part in the debate over the federal government’s response. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now deciding whether one type of bat called the northern long-eared should be added to the endangered species list. Last month, Canada’s government did just that, adding three types of bats to its list of endangered animals.