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Bat species should be studied, biologist says

4/25/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

There isn't a lot known about the northern long-eared bat in Kansas, but it's well known that disease is ravaging the species in much of the nation.

That was the driving force behind Curtis Schmidt's decision to petition the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to list the bat as threatened.

A listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is all but imminent, Schmidt said, the direct result of white nose syndrome, a fungal disease deadly to bats. That endangered listing could come as early as October.

White nose syndrome hasn't been found in Kansas yet, but it has been steadily marching across the United States, ravaging populations of cave-dwelling bats along the way.

That's what might actually be saving Kansas bats -- and the northern long-eared bat in particular -- from the disease.

The northern long-eared bat, Schmidt said, is a wide ranging species, stretching from Kansas all the way into Canada and across the eastern portion of the U.S.

"This is one of the species that is being absolutely devastated by white nose syndrome," he said.

Populations in some areas are down as much as 99 percent in as little as two to three years.

"We don't yet have the disease here," Schmidt said.

The northern long-eared bat is a year-round resident, and Schmidt has captured them before. But their habits are unclear.

"We know nothing about this species other than where it might be found," he said. "We don't know where they overwinter, where they hibernate."

There aren't any caves in the area, yet they hibernate somewhere.

Schmidt thinks they might hibernate in rock crevices along the Saline River.

Along with Elmer Finck, chairman of the biology department at Fort Hays State University, Schmidt applied for a grant from the federal wildlife agency to study the species in Kansas.

At Wednesday's hearing, he learned the state hopes to fund the study because of the paltry amount available from FWS.

Kansas's northern long-eared bat populations ultimately might be crucial to survival of the species.

"We have no white nose syndrome here," Schmidt said. "If we had it, we'd know it."

That's because researchers have looked in area caves where the disease seems most prevalent.

The overwintering habits of the species in Kansas actually might protect it from catching the disease, as it's not in a closed environment.

Schmidt expects the federal agency to declare the species threatened under emergency provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

That alone might be enough to prompt Kansas to do the same.

Schmidt said the bats must already be treated as if they're threatened.