For Immediate Release, November 9, 2010
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 434-2388 (office); (802) 318-1487 (cell)
New Mexico Bat Plan Should Limit Access to All State and Federal Caves
RICHMOND, Vt.— Federal and state wildlife agencies in New Mexico today released a plan to address the threat of white-nose syndrome, a disease that has killed more than a million bats in four years and has spread westward from the northeastern United States to within a couple hundred miles of the New Mexico border. Unfortunately, the plan is not specific or aggressive enough to stem the spread of the disease into New Mexico.
“It’s promising to see New Mexico officials working to keep this disease out of bat caves, but the plan needs to go much further,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “One of the most important first steps in slowing the spread of this disease is limiting nonessential human access to all state and federal caves, and this plan doesn’t do that.”
The plan prioritizes the prevention of possible human transmission of the disease into New Mexico caves and underground mines by requiring decontamination procedures and restricting access in “significant” bat roosts. However, no specific list of significant roosts is provided, and limited knowledge of bats and their distribution in New Mexico could hamper implementation of the plan unless the government agencies adopt a “closed unless marked as open” policy with caves and mines.
With hundreds of caves on state and federal land in New Mexico, individual assessment and designation of sites as “significant” could take years. Currently, approximately two dozen caves are recognized as significant in the state. Government officials say they will rely on reports from cavers and others to tell them whether other sites should be considered significant. The criteria for “significance” include being used by a bat species on the federal endangered list, and being used as a roost or wintering site for bats that are colonial, or group, hibernators.
“The criteria are fine, but specific information is limited, and there’s no time to wait until all of New Mexico’s caves are checked out,” said Matteson. “If the goal is to protect bats from the spread of this horrific disease, then the agencies should declare that all caves and mines are closed to nonessential access unless they’re specifically designated as open.”
The New Mexico plan could become a model for other western states facing the spread of white-nose syndrome, Matteson said, but the plans need to err on the side of bats and take more aggressive steps to reduce the chance of humans spreading the lethal bat disease.
“Scientists say white-nose syndrome could obliterate several bat species in the near future,” Matteson said. “With all the services bats provide to us — by controlling insect populations and keeping pests in check — that’s not a future we want, and we should be doing everything we can to avoid it.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 315,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
To learn more about bats and white-nose syndrome — and to see an animated map of the disease’s spread — go to http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/bat_crisis_white-nose_syndrome/index.html.