For Immediate Release, May 24, 2011
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487
Deadly Bat Disease Arrives in Maine
Fungus That Has Killed More Than 1 Million Bats Continues Rapid Spread
AUGUSTA, Maine— The fast-spreading disease that has killed more than 1 million bats in North America has been found in Maine for the first time. State wildlife officials said today that bats at two sites in Oxford County were found with the telltale signs of white-nose syndrome: a fuzzy, white substance on their wings and muzzles. National wildlife disease experts later confirmed it was white-nose syndrome. The disease, or the fungus that causes it, has now been found in 19 states and four Canadian provinces.
“Every time you turn around, this disease is popping up somewhere new. It takes a massive toll on bats, and it’s extremely urgent that we mount a counterattack to stop this unprecedented outbreak,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, which continues to push for government action to stem the spread of the disease and for research funds to find a cure.
The disease was first documented in upstate New York in 2006 and has spread quickly. In some caves, mortality rates have reached 100 percent; there’s growing concern about the disease moving west and driving some bat species toward extinction. Biologists also fear a ripple effect from the loss of bats, which eat millions of pounds of night-flying insects each year and help keep in check bugs that are problematic for agriculture and forestry. A study released earlier this year found that the value of bats’ pest-control services in the United States ranges from $3.7 billion to $53 billion.
“Bats play an important role both for people and for the places they live. This disease is already cutting deep into bat populations in the Northeast and has the potential to spread from coast to coast if we don’t take action now,” Matteson said.
In January 2010 the Center petitioned the government to immediately close all caves and abandoned mines on federal land in the lower 48 states to stem the spread of the disease. Earlier this year, the Center released a report on the failure of federal land-management agencies to institute widespread, emergency cave closures in the western United States. The group has also called for $10 million in federal support for white-nose syndrome research.
Scientists believe that the bat disease is a case of an exotic fungus that was brought to North America, perhaps on a caver’s gear or clothing, from Europe. Since biologists went to the continent to investigate, they have found European bats with the fungus, but those bats do not appear to get sick.
Six species have been affected by white-nose syndrome so far: the little brown bat, big brown bat, northern long-eared bat, tricolored bat, eastern small-footed bat and federally endangered Indiana bat. Three other species, the federally endangered gray bat, cave myotis and southeastern myotis, have been documented with the fungus on them.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.