For Immediate Release, May 6, 2010
Contact: Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 434-2388 (office); (802) 318-1487 (cell)
Deadly Bat Disease Crosses Mississippi; Group Implores States to Take Preventive Action
RICHMOND, Vt.— In response to recent news that the bat-killing disease known as white-nose syndrome has spread west of the Mississippi River, the Center for Biological Diversity is calling on state wildlife agencies throughout the country, including those in the Rocky Mountain states, in the Southwest, and on the West Coast, to become more proactive in addressing the syndrome’s possible appearance.
In particular, the Center wants states to take steps to minimize the chances of human-caused disease transmission by closing state-owned bat caves, educating the public about the ecological importance of bats, and informing and supporting private landowners who wish to protect bats. The Center is also urging state wildlife agencies to create white-nose response plans in advance of the disease showing up.
“This disease is the bats’ worst case scenario,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate for the Center. “Unfortunately, no one has written the survival handbook for white-nose syndrome yet, so until scientists know more, the best we can do to help is to keep the disease from spreading by human means, and not inflict further harm on bat populations that are already suffering.”
Today, the Center sent letters to directors of state wildlife agencies in every state in the lower 48. States not yet afflicted with white-nose syndrome were urged to “take action now to reduce the risk of white-nose syndrome being introduced to your state by means of human transmission.” Bat-to-bat and bat-to-cave transmission appear to be the more common means by which white-nose syndrome is spread, but scientists believe that the newly discovered fungus for which the disease is named can also be spread by people on contaminated caving gear, clothing, and other equipment.
As the Center notes in its letters to the state directors, “Human transmission could be particularly significant for the rate of spread of the disease, because of our vastly greater mobility compared to migratory bats.”
Says Matteson: “With white-nose syndrome, we are witnessing species extinction in hyperdrive. This disease is about to launch into the western half of the nation, and unless we do what we can to buy researchers some time to figure this out, we will be wondering a decade from now, when the bats are all gone, why we didn’t do more.”
White-nose syndrome was first documented four winters ago in bat caves in upstate New York, and has since spread to a total of 13 states and two Canadian provinces. Mortality rates in affected caves have ranged up to nearly 100 percent. Last year, the federal government estimated that more than 1 million bats had died — and that was before this past winter, when the disease appeared in Tennessee, continued to wipe out bat colonies in the Northeast, and jumped into Ontario, Quebec, and most recently, Missouri.
Six bat species are currently known to be affected by the disease, including the federally listed Indiana bat. Earlier this winter, the Center petitioned for the federal Endangered Species Act listing of two other white-nose-affected bat species: the eastern small-footed bat and the northern long-eared bat. The East’s most common bat species, the little brown bat, has thus far proven the most susceptible to white-nose syndrome, and has virtually disappeared from affected areas. For the time being, it remains numerous in other parts of the country, but biologists think that could quickly change if the disease continues to spread.
Scientists believe that one of the repercussions of a widespread bat die-off could be larger populations of insect pests, such as moths and beetles that plague agricultural crops and cost farmers billions of dollars per year. Bats consume many tons of insects each night.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.