The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is closing human access to publicly-owned caves in primarily northeast and southeast Iowa where bats hibernate. D.N.R. spokesman Kevin Baskins, says they’re trying to prevent the spread of a disease in the bat population.
He says the problem that we’re seeing is a disease called “white nose syndrome” that has been a big problem in the eastern United States, and could be responsible for the death of at least one million bats. Baskins says the disease has surfaced in Missouri and the U.S. Wildlife Service recommended that Iowa take action.
“We don’t know that there’s any real danger to humans, what we’re most concerned about at this point is the spread of the disease to actual bats,” Baskins says. He says they are worried that the disease can be spread by the shoes and clothing of humans into areas where the bats hibernate.
Baskins says Iowa doesn’t have a large bat population, but the ones that’re here have a key role in the environment. He says they estimate there are about 2,000 bats that hibernate in Iowa every year. Baskins says while bats sometimes get a bad reputation among the general public, they do eat lots of insects, especially mosquitoes, and perform an important role in the general ecosystem.
Baskins says they’ll start restricting access Monday at places like Maquoketa Caves State Park, Starr’s Cave, near Burlington, and Searryl’s Cave in Jones County . Baskins says they probably won’t put up fences, but will warn the public of the problem. He says they will probably put up signs and hopefully the public will respect them and the effort to protect the public resource.
Baskins says they are also asking people who have privately-owned caves to take precautions to prevent the spread of the disease.