Biologist Susi von Oettingen walked into the dark World War II-era military bunker and took out her flashlight. Among the old pipes, wires and machinery parts, she saw some bats hanging from cracks in the cement walls and ceiling.

Biologist Susi von Oettingen walked into the dark World War II-era military bunker and took out her flashlight. Among the old pipes, wires and machinery parts, she saw some bats hanging from cracks in the cement walls and ceiling.


It was an unusual place for the bats to hibernate, different from a mine or cave. But something else was different, too: None of them had white-nose syndrome, a fungus that's killing bats across the country.


The group of bats found last winter in the New Hampshire bunker was small, recalled von Oettingen, an endangered species biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But two of the three species discovered there — the Northern Long-eared Bat and the Little Brown Bat — have been dying off from the disease.


Starting as early as next month, von Oettingen will be part of a group of state and federal biologists monitoring that bunker and a few others in the state. They'll study temperature and humidity levels and put up footholds for the bats, hoping to attract more and figure out if there's a way to control white-nose syndrome, first discovered near Albany, N.Y., in 2006.


"We may be able to maintain a white-nose-free site for these bats to return to," she said.


The disease, which appears to affect bats mostly during winter hibernation, has killed more than a million in the Northeast and has spread to at least 11 states, as far west as Oklahoma, and parts of Canada. Some caves on federal lands were closed to people this year to prevent them from spreading the disease.


Because the bunkers would be controlled, artificial settings, biologists also might be able to experiment with different treatments for bats with the disease, without worrying about how a spray or drug might affect other organisms.


"This is one of the most promising things I've heard," said Nina Fascione, executive director of Bat Conservation International, an Austin, Texas-based group that focuses on research initiatives involving bats and their ecosystems. "It presents an excellent opportunity to test things."