For Immediate Release, May 20, 2009
Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 434-2388 (office); (802) 318-1487 (cell)
Nina Fascione, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 682-9400
Massive Effort Needed to Save Bat Species From Extinction
Wildlife, Environmental, and Farming Organizations Join
Businesses and Scientists in
Plea to Congress for Action
RICHMOND, Vt.— The Center for Biological Diversity and 60 other national and regional organizations sent a letter today to members of Congress requesting increased funding for research on white-nose syndrome, a disease that has been devastating bat populations in the eastern United States over the past two years. Scientists are predicting that if current trends continue, several species of bat may be extinct in just a few years. The cause of the illness has not been definitively identified, and no cure is known.
Bats are crucial insect eaters and pollinators whose loss could leave devastating gaps in ecosystems and profoundly disrupt the food chain.
The letter was signed by scientists, farmers, and conservation, wildlife, sustainable farming, and anti-pesticide organizations. Biologists predict that the widespread loss of insect-eating bats will lead to burgeoning bug populations, including those that attack crops. Increased use of pesticides on farms may result from the bat die-off.
“Action is needed now to stop white-nose syndrome from wiping out our bats,” said Mollie Matteson, who spearheaded the letter campaign and is a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Although sometimes superstitiously feared, bats serve a critical role in the food chain. Their loss would mean more insects, more pesticides, and a lot less healthy environment.”
Bats have a low reproductive rate and are very slow to recover from population declines. Some bat populations, decimated by loss of cave habitat or outright persecution decades ago, had slowly been making a comeback with the help of conservation groups and wildlife agencies. Now many of these efforts have been undone in a matter of 24 months.
White-nose syndrome was first documented in the winter of 2007-08 in bat caves near Albany, New York. It has since spread to eight other states, affecting six species and killing bats in their hibernation colonies at rates up to 100 percent. The malady is associated with a previously unknown fungus that invades the bats’ skin. It does not appear to pose a threat to humans. White-nose syndrome has been spreading and is currently heading for Kentucky, Tennessee, and other southern and midwestern states, where some of the largest populations of bats in the world reside.
Nina Fascione, vice president of field conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, helped enlist the support of other groups for the letter to Congress. She said: “Biologists have been scrambling to figure out why the bats are dying, but they’ve had very little resources to work with. We’re asking Congress to help provide those resources because we don’t have the luxury of time with this illness. We can save the bats, but we may lose them if we don’t act now.”
Acknowledgment of the problem is growing. Two weeks ago, the three-member Vermont congressional delegation released a letter cosigned by fellow members from 13 other states, asking for their colleagues’ support in addressing white-nose syndrome. In addition to the letter sent today by the Center, Defenders, and other groups, individual Center activists have sent over 57,000 letters to their representatives in Congress, asking for emergency action. A hearing on white-nose syndrome is scheduled for the House Natural Resources Committee on June 4.
Other signatories on the letter include Bat Conservation International, National Wildlife Federation, Beyond Pesticides, the Humane Society of the United States, and Women, Food, and Agriculture Network.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 220,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come.