For Immediate Release, February 15, 2011
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 434-2388 (office); (802) 318-1487 (cell)
New Bill Would Protect Bats, Other Species From Wildlife Diseases
RICHMOND, Vt.— The Center for Biological Diversity applauded the introduction of a new bill by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D.-N.J.), which should speed the response of the federal government to wildlife disease crises such as the one currently taking a devastating toll on bats. Bats have been decimated in the past few years by a new, fast-spreading illness called white-nose syndrome.
“The slow response of the federal government to white-nose syndrome makes it painfully clear that we need a better system for quickly addressing wildlife crises,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate with the Center. “White-nose syndrome threatens the survival of bats around the country but, so far the federal government hasn’t responded in a way that matches the magnitude of this unprecedented outbreak.”
The proposed legislation, known as the Wildlife Disease Emergency Act, would create a mechanism for the secretary of the interior to declare wildlife disease emergencies, establish a fund to coordinate rapid response, and address wildlife crises in cooperation with federal and state agencies and nongovernmental organizations. The bill would also create a wildlife disease committee to increase the “level of preparedness of the United States to address emerging wildlife diseases.”
New Jersey’s Sen. Lautenberg, who sits on the Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced the bill today during a confirmation hearing for the new director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Dan Ashe.
White-nose syndrome is the most devastating wildlife disease ever documented in North America, according to biologists; but other recent wildlife diseases have also captured headlines, threatened the survival of species and exacted high economic and ecological costs. These diseases include chytrid fungus in frogs and other amphibians and chronic wasting disease in deer and elk.
“Already this winter, white-nose syndrome has shown up in two new states, for a current total of 16,” said Matteson. “The federal agencies responsible for protecting our wildlife have needed to move quickly and aggressively, but instead they have been tentative and indecisive. A system for national wildlife disease response, if adequately funded, will make a huge difference.”
The bat disease was first documented in caves in upstate New York in 2006; it has since moved as far west as western Oklahoma, as far south as Tennessee and as far north as Ontario, Canada. Scientists estimated two years ago it had killed more than 1 million bats, and many more bats since then have died. The cause of the bat illness is likely a newly introduced fungus, which colonizes the bats’ skin and wings and appears to interfere with their delicate physiological balance during hibernation.
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.