Group aims to stop disease

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Illness that’s ravaged bats in the Northeast threatens to spread west

By Susan M. Bryan

ALBUQUERQUE — A mysterious disease that has ravaged bat populations in the northeastern United States is threatening to spread west, potentially triggering a mass die-off of the flying mammals, which help control populations of insects that can damage agricultural crops, a conservation group said.

The Center for Biological Diversity sent letters this week to state wildlife officials across the country, urging them to consider closing state-owned caves to the public to prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome.

More than a million hibernating bats have died since the disease was first documented in upstate New York in 2006. It has spread around the Northeast and has been detected as far south as Virginia and now as far west as Missouri.

“We are in the position of potentially finding out what an important role bats play through their loss,” said Mollie Matteson, an advocate with the conservation group. “Losing bats is probably going to upset the ecological balance.”

The fungus linked to the syndrome appears to thrive in cold, moist caves and affects hibernating bats.

Six bat species are known to be affected by the fungus, including the little brown bat and the federally protected Indiana bat.

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