For Immediate Release, May 17, 2011
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487
New Federal Plan to Tackle Bat-killing Disease Inadequate to Stop Epidemic
LITTLE ROCK, Ark.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finally released its national plan to confront white-nose syndrome, a fast-moving disease that has already killed more than 1 million bats in North America. Unfortunately, the plan still lacks specific guidance on how other state and federal agencies should respond to the unprecedented wildlife crisis, and it doesn’t provide any estimate on the amount of money or staff that will be needed.
“White-nose syndrome is wiping out North America’s bats at a nightmarish pace, but the Fish and Wildlife Service response has been hesitant, vague and ultimately not ambitious enough to match the scale of this wildlife disaster,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Since it was first detected in upstate New York in 2006, white-nose syndrome or the disease-causing fungus has moved into 18 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces. It typically kills 70 percent to 90 percent of bats in an affected colony; sometimes mortality rates reach 100 percent. Biologists fear it is moving west and could eventually push several bat species to extinction.
Bats play a vital role wherever they live. A recent scientific paper on their economic value to agriculture estimated that bats’ nontoxic pest-control services totaled $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year.
“These massive bat dieoffs are a warning we dismiss at our own peril,” Matteson said. “Allowing this deadly disease to spread across the country without a well-funded, coordinated strategy to stop it is a recipe for disaster.”
Although white-nose syndrome has been killing bats for five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is only now getting around to releasing a response plan.
“With a disease that moves as fast as white-nose syndrome, the clock is always ticking. Every day of delay is a day the disease can gain a foothold in a new place,” Matteson said.
The Center last year petitioned federal land managers to block nonessential human access to caves and abandoned mines across the lower 48 states in the hopes of stemming the spread of the disease. The fungus spreads from bat to bat, but scientists also believe it can spread on shoes, clothes and climbing equipment when people go from one cave to another. While there have been widespread cave closures in the eastern United States, land managers in the West have yet to take similar, large-scale steps.
The Center has also called for dramatic increases in federal funding to research the cause of, and possible cures for, the disease; it has petitioned the government to provide federal protections for some of the most vulnerable bat species.