David Gregory, a wildlife biologist in the DNR Region One Game Management office in Armuchee, said the biggest threat from white-nose is to the bat population overall.
The fungal disease, which causes the bats’ noses to turn white, can typically cause bats end hibernation early. When that happens, they waste their energy searching for food, which is scarce in the winter months, and they start dying off.
Gregory said DNR personnel were doing routine cave surveys of bat populations when the first two cases were discovered in Sittons Cave at Cloudland Canyon State Park on March 5, and in a cave on the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park property in February.
Gregory said a third possible location has turned up but declined to identify the location until the case can be confirmed.
Personnel will conduct another cave survey Wednesday in Walker County.
“There are concerns about the sport of caving and what this disease may be because there are a significant number of people out there that have concerns about caving spreading the disease,” Gregory said. He said some of those same people have an interest in using this as an opportunity to shut down the sport of caving.
Gregory said man could spread the disease. “It’s a spore, it’s a fungal spore so any movement can move the spores, whether it’s cavers or bats,” Gregory said. “The probabilities of moving it are bat to bat.”
Thus far, the Georgia DNR has resisted pressure to close caves that are on wildlife management areas. “When white-nose first came out that was the immediate knee jerk-reaction, lets close all close all caves period,” Gregory said.
The biologist said he doesn’t envision the closure of any of the popular caves in Northwest Georgia, such as Ellison’s Cave or Pettyjohn Cave in Walker County. “Even though it’s (Pettyjohn) not commercial in a sense, the economic impact to Walker County if that cave closed would be massive,” Gregory said. We estimate about 10,000 people a year go through that cave.”