What’s good about WNS?

Days in the field are always a break from being in the office; I’ll be the first to admit that. So, when I had a chance to investigate bat activity at the base of Mount Washington, New Hampshire, you bet I went. Bats were flying all over the place doing things they weren’t supposed to: flying in the bright sunlight, clinging to buildings, flopping on the ground and dying. It was bizarre to see bats flying with snow-covered Mt. Washington in the background. You’ve seen the tragic blogs and reports, this was no different.

Maybe I should focus on something good for a change. And yes, there is something amazing happening. It hit me; here I was in the middle of a crowd of people focusing on bats. Who were they? A representation of who’s out there working on WNS: biologists from the Forest Service, volunteers who documented bats emerging, a VT-state biologist, and helpful and concerned employees of businesses where the bats were flitting about.

This is the remarkable thing about WNS – the best and brightest minds; the most dedicated and passionate people are pooling their thoughts, resources, over-time and volunteer hours to figure out what on earth is happening to our bats. So, let’s recognize the people and their efforts – some monumental, some far less crucial but nevertheless appreciated – who have responded to WNS.

How do I begin to write about my counterparts? Let’s start with emails from all hours of the day and night, weekdays and weekends. A biologist up at 3 AM thinking about this problem (replaying a grim site visit or generating a brilliant idea) who sends out his message so it won’t be forgotten later. The biologists and scientists working on WNS are from all over the US and Canada, they work for the states, the feds, academic institutions, laboratories, consulting firms, rehabilitation centers, bat-oriented organizations and other environmental non-profits (and probably someplaces I’ve forgotten). These women and men are in constant communication with each other – on the phone (just love those conference calls) emails, surveys, meetings. Imagine them spinning around our WNS National Coordinator (he must have perfected the art of juggling, how else would he survive the whirlwind of calls, emails, meetings, “Do This Now” commands and demands on his time?). They are constantly thinking, brainstorming, bouncing ideas off of each other – trying to come up with something new, an explanation, research or THE ANSWER to our prayers. Phew, I’m tired just listing all this stuff. But wait, there’s more!

There are specialist groups like cavers who find new WNS sites, and guide some of us (who are not exactly thrilled to be underground in the dark) safely in and out of caves and mines. And there’s the interested public who sends us reports, questions and offers of help by volunteering to count “their” bats in the summer as they emerge from barns, attics and bat houses. These volunteers are everywhere and all ages. Kids write about WNS or interview us for their reports, some try to raise money for our cause; others write heart wrenching letters, even poetry. I am constantly amazed when old friends and strangers (who often know very little about bats) have read about WNS and express concern about the situation and want to help.

How did these folks hear about WNS? Well, the media and our communications experts of course! They keep our story alive and let the public know WNS is not going away, in fact, it’s getting worse. Reporters multiply our voices, make us louder and harder to ignore. They get the message out and maintain public interest. To have to suffer through WNS and think that no one cared would have been unbearable.

And finally, how could so much get done without money? The fund raisers have been enormously helpful; they are the folks setting up separate “quick response” funds for use in WNS research or reaching out to congressional delegates, urging them to support the WNS effort. Many people do this on their own time and dime, because they are as passionate about saving bats as the biologists or the homeowners with roosting bats or the skier who watched a bat dying on a trail.

It’s mind boggling to sit back and think of the hundreds of people who in one way or another have gotten involved in WNS or been touched by it (and I apologize if didn’t mention you or your group, there are just so many of you out there!). That this huge number of people could come together to focus on WNS is positive, it’s good. And, it gives me hope.