For Immediate Release, November 12, 2015
Contact: Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Bat-killing Fungus Reaches Nebraska
Western United States May Be Next in Line for Spread of Epidemic
LINCOLN, Neb.— State and federal wildlife officials announced today that a bat-killing fungus that has swept across the eastern United States and Canada over the past eight years, killing millions of bats, has been confirmed by scientists in eastern Nebraska. Samples taken from bats in a mine in Cass County, Neb. at the end of last winter tested positive for the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome; the bat species found with the fungus were northern long-eared bats, tricolored bats and big brown bats.
The highly lethal disease that follows the fungus is not yet present, but this early detection is likely a precursor to the disease’s full-blown appearance in two to three years. Mortality rates among some species, such as northern long-eared bats, have reached 99 percent in many bat colonies in the East and Midwest.
“The spread of white-nose syndrome has been an extinction tsunami sweeping out of the eastern United States. Eventually it is going to break in the West, and there, it will encounter many new bat species potentially vulnerable to the disease,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given the failure of state and federal wildlife agencies to provide the strong, additional legal protections several eastern bats now need to survive, the prospects for western bats are troubling.”
White-nose syndrome has spread to 26 states since it first appeared in North America in 2006. Bats in Mississippi, Minnesota and Oklahoma have tested positive for the fungus. Nebraska now joins the list of states where the fungus has been detected.
“The combination of white-nose syndrome with other threats, such as habitat degradation, environmental toxins, industrial wind turbines and climate change, may be more than these vulnerable bat species can handle,” said Matteson. “Given that healthy bats have, at best, one bat pup per year, the capacity for these populations to bounce back is low. It’s possible it will take until my great-grandchildren are born for these bats to achieve stable populations again. It’s also quite possible my great-grandchildren will never see these bats because by then, they’ll have vanished.”
The protection of white-nose affected bats has been a highly contentious issue. For example, industries such as timber, oil and gas, mining and wind energy opposed the listing of the northern long-eared bat earlier this year. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service weakened protection for the species, listing it as “threatened” instead of “endangered.”
White-nose syndrome has been called the worst wildlife health crisis in recent memory, and has caused mortality rates ranging up to 100 percent among bats in affected caves. There is no known cure for the disease, which has afflicted seven bat species so far and has pushed several of them to the brink of regional extinction. Many leading bat biologists have emphasized precautionary measures, such as closures and site-specific caving gear requirements, as the best management response.
Scientists have estimated the economic value of insect-eating bats to American agriculture at $22 billion annually. Bats also eat tons of insects harmful to forests, and their guano is essential to the survival of extremely rare cave organisms like cave salamanders and fish.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.