Gate installed at Tory’s Cave to help bat population
NEW MILFORD — A steel gate now stands at the entrance of Tory’s Cave in hopes of preventing the spread of a disease that has killed off millions of bats in the Eastern United States.
“The population has taken such a hit with white-nose syndrome, we need to do everything we can to protect the survivors,” said Kate Moran, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. “We hope by restricting access, especially during hibernation time, bats will increase their use of the cave. We haven’t had a lot of activity in recent years.”
White-nose syndrome has wiped out entire cave populations in certain places and is believed to have killed more than 5.7 million bats in North America since the disease was detected a little more than a decade ago. In Connecticut, the little brown bat and the tri-colored bat, both of which have been found in the cave, along with the northern long-eared bat, have lost significant portions of their populations.
The gate was installed Aug. 29 by DEEP and the Weantinoge Heritage Land Trust, which owns the land. It is expected to remain there through at least spring 2019 as DEEP studies the effect the gate has on the bat population.
“We’re hoping to provide as much protection to the cave as we can,” said Carrie Davis, Weantinoge’s assistant director of land conservation.
The gate at Tory’s Cave is part of a larger initiative to help bats in the Northeast. DEEP received a $39,000 matching grant in federal funds to install gates at six bat caves. The match was made through in-kind donations.
The gates, which were also installed in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, are an efficient way to keep humans out of caves while still allowing bats to fly through the beams, Moran said.
Davis said it was “eye-opening” to see how often people visited the cave when it was supposed to be closed for several months in 2016. A study using light sensors recorded human activity on 60 days. She added that unused fireworks, discarded coffee cups and used cigars have also been found in the cave.
“It showed significant level of human visitation at critical times of the year when bats would usually use the cave to hibernate,” Davis said.
Paul Elconin, Weantinoge’s director of land conservation, said in a normal winter, the cave would ice over and be inaccessible to humans, but warmer winters recently have prevented that from happening.
He added that disturbing the bats during hibernation is the worst that could happen because not only does it potentially spread white-nose syndrome, but it also awakens the bats early, forcing them to deplete energy stores or to leave the cave in search of food that is scarce in mid-winter. In either case, the bats often starve.
“Anything we can do to save the population of bats is key because these bats are on the verge of local extinction,” Elconin said.
He also said the trust recognizes the popularity of the cave as a recreational resource and hopes to reopen it either for some time or on a permit basis once the bat population rebounds.
He said the trails are still open though on the 8.5 acre preserve.
“There are other recreation opportunities people can take advantage of, even if the gate is closed,” Elconin said.