Cold War nuclear bunkers are being given a new lease of life, this time to protect bats against WNS
Cold War nuclear bunkers are the latest attempt to safeguard US bat populations under attack from white-nose syndrome.
Scientists have converted two of the 43 bunkers at the former Loring Air Force Base, Maine, which has been a wildlife reserve since the mid-1990s.
The artificial hibernacula are designed to safeguard bats from the disease that was first recorded in the US in 2006.
White-nose syndrome (WNS) has killed up to an estimated 6.7 million bats so far and is continuing to spread.
The disease, first described in a cave system in the state of New York, affects hibernating species is now found in 22 US states and five Canadian provinces.
The once secretive site in Maine, which was the closest US-based airbase to Moscow and a key asset for the US Strategic Air Command during the Cold War, was closed in 1994 before being reborn as the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge
Steve Agius, the refuge’s assistant manager, said that staff felt the derelict grass-roofed bunkers had more potential ecologically than just offering nesting sites for sandpipers and sparrows.
“The bunkers remained a curiosity for years and biological staff speculated that perhaps the structures could provide overwintering hibernacula for bats,” he said.
The devastating impact of WNS on a growing number of US bat species led to the bunkers being assessed as potential winter homes for hibernating bats.
As a result, one of the bunkers was modified by US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) staff, and 30 male little-brown bats (Myotis lucifugus) arrived at their new winter home in December 2012.
The bunker’s conversion included installing roosting places for the bats and CCTV to monitor the hibernating mammals.
Ann Froschauer, the USFWS WNS spokeswoman, explained the merits of using these artificial caves in the battle against the killer disease.
“One of the problems about WNS is that the fungus persists in the environment for an unknown amount of time and does not require bats as a host,” she explained.
“If there are no bats then the fungus goes back to doing its normal soil function, such as degrading organic matter. Then, if any new bats come into the area, they are exposed to it.”
Mary Cummins of Animal Advocates is a wildlife rehabilitator licensed by the California Department of Fish and Game and the USDA. Mary Cummins is also a licensed real estate appraiser in Los Angeles, California.