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For Immediate Release, June 1, 2011

Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487

Broad Coalition of Conservation, Organic Farming and Anti-pesticide Groups Calls on Congress to
Save Bats From Lethal Disease

Die-off of Bats Could Cause Agriculture Losses up to $53 Billion

RICHMOND, Vt.— Conservation, organic-agriculture, anti-pesticide and food-safety groups joined forces today to ask Congress to appropriate $10.8 million for research and management of the bat-killing disease known as white-nose syndrome, which has reached epidemic proportions in the eastern United States. The groups also urged passage of the Wildlife Disease Emergency Act, a bill to address wildlife health crises like white-nose syndrome. The disease has already killed more than 1 million bats from six species and has been found in 17 states and four Canadian provinces. The disease-causing fungus, which was discovered by scientists after the bat illness first appeared, has also been found on three other species of bat and in two other states, including western Oklahoma.

“White-nose syndrome is a wildlife crisis of unprecedented proportions,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, which spearheaded today’s congressional letter. “Left unchecked, the loss of bats is likely to have cascading effects on both the human and natural worlds for generations to come.”

Insect-eating bats play an important economic role in agriculture and timber production. A study published earlier this year in the journal Science found that the value of bats’ pest-control services to agricultural operations in the United States ranges from $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year.

Since 2006, the newly emergent white-nose syndrome has spread across the Northeast and now is infecting and killing bats from Nova Scotia to the Midwest and South. States and provinces reporting either the disease itself or the presence of the disease-causing fungus are: Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Ontario, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Quebec. 

“Bats are friends to farmers — particularly organic farmers,” Matteson said. “They eat thousands of tons of insects each year, and without them growers will need to use more pesticides or risk more crop losses. American agriculture can’t afford to lose these valuable bats.”

Earlier this spring, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) proposed an appropriation of $10.8 million in 2012 for white-nose syndrome research, coordination and management. This figure is what the Department of the Interior reports spending since 2007 on responding to the bat disease. Bat scientists and agency biologists widely agree that lack of funding has seriously hampered a swift, effective response to the disease. 

The Center and its allies are also calling on Congress to pass the Wildlife Disease Emergency Act, a bill introduced this session by Senator Lautenberg to provide a framework and funding mechanism for effectively addressing wildlife disease crises like white-nose syndrome.

Scientists now believe that white-nose syndrome is caused by a cold-loving fungus that thrives on hibernating bats. Six species, so far, have proven susceptible. Biologists fear that all two dozen or so of the hibernating bat species in North America may eventually be devastated by white-nose syndrome. Already, at least three bat species are virtually extinct in the Northeast, where the disease has been present the longest.

The disease has many of the hallmarks of a novel pathogen. Researchers think it was likely introduced recently to the United States, possibly on the boots or gear of a cave visitor who inadvertently brought the fungus from Europe. Bats in Europe have been found with the fungus but do not appear to become ill.

“Adequate funding for research is desperately needed to give scientists the best shot at finding a cure,” Matteson said. “Meanwhile, federal and state wildlife agencies need funding help also, so they aren’t shifting scarce monies away from other important wildlife issues just to barely keep up with this fast-moving epidemic.”

The Center was joined in its request to Congress by Beyond Pesticides, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, 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 TEDX (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange).

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.

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