For Immediate Release, January 21, 2010
Contact: Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 434-2388 (office), (802) 318-1487 (cell)
Emergency Petitions Filed to Close Caves and Save Bats From Extinction
WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed two emergency petitions with the federal government in an effort to stop the spread of a deadly bat disease and step up government action to save two rare bat species from extinction. The first petition asks federal agencies to close all bat caves under their jurisdiction and asks Interior Secretary Salazar to pass regulations restricting travel between bat caves under any jurisdiction. Such measures are necessary until it can be shown that people are not a vector for the newly emergent bat disease known as white-nose syndrome, and that measures to eliminate risk of spread are effective. The second petition asks for the eastern small-footed bat and the northern long-eared bat, both hit hard by white-nose syndrome, to be protected as endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“White-nose syndrome has decimated bats in the Northeast and is quickly spreading to other regions,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate with the Center. “Our government needs to increase its response by an order of magnitude to offer any hope for bats in the eastern United States and to ensure that the disease does not spread across the country.”
The Center’s actions come as scientists and wildlife agencies brace themselves for a fourth winter of bat deaths across the eastern United States. Since white-nose syndrome was first documented in caves in the Albany, New York area in early 2007, the disease – since confirmed as a previously unknown fungus – has spread to bat populations in a total of nine states. Biologists believe it will show up in new areas this winter, and may reach some of the densest and most diverse bat populations in the world, in the South and Midwest, within the next year or two. Thus far, over a million bats are dead from the syndrome.
“This is the worst wildlife catastrophe the country has seen since the extinction of the passenger pigeon,” said Matteson. “Bats eat millions of insects every year, meaning their loss could have far-reaching consequences for people and for crops.”
The Center is requesting that the secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, and Defense close all bat-inhabited caves and mines on federal lands throughout the continental United States to prevent the possible human transmission of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome and to ban travel between caves with bats under any jurisdiction. Scientists suspect that people are partially responsible for the fungus’ spread and may even have introduced it to North America. A recent genetic analysis of a white fungus found on a bat in France confirmed that it is identical to the disease-causing fungus in the United States. However, European bats do not appear to become ill from the fungus.
“Closing nonessential access to caves is a necessary precaution until white-nose syndrome is better understood and it can be determined that entering caves is safe,” said Matteson. The group supports white-nose syndrome research in caves, and has also asked that a national fund be established to acquire and conserve important bat caves from willing sellers.
The two bat species the Center is petitioning to have listed as endangered were already rare prior to the appearance of white-nose syndrome and are now at grave risk of extinction.
“Without aggressive efforts to secure their habitat and stem further losses from all causes, including probable human transmission of the new bat disease, these bats may soon join the sad list of American species we know only from textbooks and museums,” said Matteson.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.