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Coeur d'Alene
Release Date: 02/08/11
Contacts: Carrie Hugo, 208-769-5048    

BLM Reminds Public that Abandoned Mines are Closed to All Access

COEUR D’ALENE, ID – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Coeur d’Alene Field Office is reminding the public that all abandoned mines are closed for public safety and for the safety of local bat populations. 
“Initially, these closures were created to help ensure public safety,” according to BLM Coeur d’Alene Field Office Wildlife Biologist Carrie Hugo. “Many abandoned mines are unstable and could collapse at any time. Also, mines may contain poisonous gases that could harm or kill those who enter. Some mines are filled with water and pose a drowning threat to unsuspecting explorers.” 
But mine closures also serve another very important purpose of protecting bats, according to Hugo.   Many of the thirteen local bat species found in northern Idaho use mines as roosts during the day, during the night and during the winter months. Especially during winter, bats are vulnerable to disturbance by people entering mines. Hibernating bats store fat in the late summer and fall before they enter hibernation during the winter months. 
“Every time they are disturbed, it costs many valuable calories and lots of energy for them to awake and respond to the disturbance,” Hugo said. “Too much disturbance can result in bats ‘starving to death’ as they hibernate because they do not have enough body fat stored to make it through winter.”
Now, there is another more menacing reason to stay out of abandoned mines. A wildlife pandemic called White-Nosed Syndrome is a fungal disease killing bats as they hibernate, and it is currently estimated that over a million bats have died in the eastern United States since the disease was first documented in 2006. 
The disease gets its name from the tell-tale white mold that is found on the muzzles and wings of almost all affected bats. Hugo said much like human disturbance, the disease is thought to kill the bats by causing them to wake frequently during hibernation, burning valuable energy stores and eventually starving them. It is not known to affect humans, but more than 80 percent of the bats found in roosts infected by the disease end up dying. One Vermont Cave that had 200,000 to 300,000 hibernating bats lost almost 90 percent of the colony in one winter. 
“White-Nosed Syndrome is marching westward in our direction with the most recent location found in northwest Oklahoma,” according to Hugo. “While much of the disease is thought to be transmitted from one bat to another, it is also believed that the very first transmission was carried on the clothing or equipment of a person entering a cave. Since then, it has spread like wildfire, so it is important that we do our best to ensure that people are not bringing this ‘death sentence’ to bats in our western states – especially northern Idaho.”
Bats provide a great service to humans by helping to control insect populations. These insects include forest pests, agricultural pests, and even mosquitoes. Little brown bats, which have been hit particularly hard by White-Nosed Syndrome, can eat 600 mosquitoes in one hour. 
“Please do your part to help ensure that we do not experience the same losses of our valuable bat populations,” Hugo asks. “For your own safety and for the safety of our bats, please stay out of abandoned mines.”

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to manage and conserve the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations under our mandate of multiple-use and sustained yield. In Fiscal Year 2013, the BLM generated $4.7 billion in receipts from public lands.

Last updated: 10-31-2013