Eastern Bats, White-Nose Syndrome and Felt Soles
January 24, 2012
The link below leads to a January 17, 2012 press release from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. It highlights the extermination of bats throughout the Eastern U.S. by an invasive fungal infection known as white-nose syndrome.
Two years ago, I spoke with a customer in my fly shop who was researching the problem. He told me that white-nose syndrome can be traced back to a single cave in New York State. A group of cavers had been exploring caves in Europe and did not thoroughly clean their gear before entering the New York cave. They brought the disease, which is common in Europe, to North American bats that have little, to no, immunity. European bats have evolved with the disease (like whirling disease in European trout) for thousands of years. But in North America, the death rate for infected bats is near 100%.
That same year, my wife and I were walking our dog along Penns Creek when we saw several bats flying around a bridge in the middle of the day. To see the bats during daylight hours was strange. But the real concern was that it was in the middle of February when bats would normally be hibernating. We could clearly see the bats' chalky white muzzles as they flew. That spring, there were few bats along the creek to eat the bounty of mayfly duns and spinners as the sun set. Last year, I did not see a single bat along the section of Penns Creek in front of my house. Any fly angler knows that late spring and summer mayfly emergences and spinner falls are always accompanied by bats. It was strange fishing without them; it felt like something was missing.
It's impossible to know where this will all lead. Will the bat populations recover? Will some bats be found to have a higher imunity than others, and will those bats fill the niche left behind by those that are most suceptible? The reduction of the bat population may actually help increase the number of flyfishing-important aquatic insects as more of them survive to procreate with the loss of one of their great predators. But, mosquito populations will also be aided by the predator loss. A single bat eats thousand, upon thousands, of mosquitoes. That cannot be good news with the proliferation of mosquito born diseases in humans such as West Nile Disease.
I cannot think of the loss of our bats without pondering our felt-bottomed wading boot debate. It's still common to read Internet flyfishing forum discussions that argue for felt's necessity. Some of these people's views are so small-minded that they would be laughable, if the wading boot manufacturers didn't listen to them. But they do. And nearly all boot companies will continue to produce felt versions in 2012.
I've been wearing studded Vibram-bottomed wading boots for over 2 years. I am a big guy and an aggressive wader who crosses creeks and rivers when many anglers would not. I have not fallen once while wearing my Vibram boots with studs (probably just jinxed myself). I have fallen while wading in the past, several times. And I was wearing felt boots when I fell. Every time. Vibram is not the end-all answer for stopping the spread of invasive disease like didymo, Whirling disease, and others. But it's an important piece of the puzzle.
There's a reason why most didymo infected waters are trout fishing destinations. It's because we're spreading the stuff. If you're a felt supporter, I know you don't like change. I know you don't like the government telling you what to do. I realize the voices in your head tell you that the entire issue is a vast, international conspiracy created by fly shops, boot manufacturers, and Democrats to force you to buy a new pair of boots. I've read all of these arguments on the Internet. But please slow down. Talk to a therapist about your persecution complex and get some medication. Then get some Vibram boots and treat them before moving between waterways. We need to do all we can to try to protect our rivers and streams. A new pair of boots is a small price to pay to help make sure our fisheries don't go the way of the Eastern bat.
For more information about white-nose syndrome, click on this link.
If you're unfamilar with dydimo and how to treat your wading boots so you don't spread it, read this link: