For Immediate Release, May 25, 2011
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487
Conservation, Farming Groups Launch Lawsuit Seeking
Emergency Action to Protect Bats From Deadly Disease
New National Campaign Also Seeks to Raise Awareness of Disease
That Has Killed More Than 1 Million Bats
RICHMOND, Vt.— A dozen conservation, organic agriculture, anti-pesticide and other groups formally notified the Obama administration that they will take legal action in 30 days if federal agencies do not act to immediately close caves and take other emergency steps on federal lands to protect bats from a new wildlife epidemic known as white-nose syndrome. The Center for Biological Diversity, which spearheaded the legal effort, also unveiled a new national campaign today to bring greater public awareness to the plight of bats dying from the fast-moving, lethal fungal infection.
Since its discovery in February 2006 in upstate New York, the fungus causing white-nose syndrome has spread to at least 19 states and four Canadian provinces and has killed more than a million bats.
“White-nose syndrome is a runaway train that's devastating bat populations across the Northeast and rapidly spreading west,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate for the Center. “It’s barreling down the tracks wiping out bats, and while we don’t know how to stop it yet, we should at least use the brakes we’ve got — and fast. Those brakes are cave and mine closures.”
The Center and its allies sent today’s notice to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The notice called on the secretaries to respond immediately to a federal petition filed in January 2010 by the Center requesting several actions to slow the potential spread, by people, of the bat disease. Specifically, the groups seek emergency restrictions on human access into caves and mines on federal lands; rules against activities that spread the disease and harm endangered bats; and the designation of all caves on federal lands as “significant” under a national cave-protection law.
Food and farming groups joined the suit because of concern that the precipitous decline of bats will lead to greater numbers of insects, some of which are major crop pests. Pesticide use may rise in response to fewer bats, and organic farmers in particular will lose a vital, nontoxic tool for keeping pests in check. Scientists believe bats may contribute between $3.7 billion and $53 billion in pest-control services each year to American agriculture.
Although the disease is likely transmitted from bat to bat, there is compelling evidence that it's also transmitted from one bat colony to another by people. The fungus that causes white-nose syndrome has been found extensively in Europe, but bats there are unaffected and appear to have evolved with the fungus. The sudden appearance and deadly spread of white-nose syndrome in North America offers compelling evidence that the disease was unwittingly brought here from Europe on the gear or clothing of a caver.
“The West’s millions of acres of public, federal land offer our best chance to preserve a reservoir of uninfected bats — if not indefinitely, then at least for a few crucial years while scientists work to find a cure,” Matteson said. “Keeping people from moving the fungus into the West is a biological and moral imperative, and the time to act is now.”
Groups joining the Center in its effort to compel federal cave closures and other measures are Beyond Pesticides, Californians for Alternatives to Pesticides, Center for Food Safety, Local Harvest, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, Northeast Organic Farming Association—Connecticut, Northeast Organic Farming Association—Vermont, Organic Consumers Association, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association and The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX).
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.
To learn more about bats and white-nose syndrome go to http://www.saveourbats.org.