Conservation groups say $4 million appropriation will help, bt is not enough to stem the spread of deadly white-nose syndrome
SUMMIT COUNTY — There was some good news and some bad news for North America’s beleaguered bats this week, as Congress authorized the Department of Interior to spend $4 million on research and management of white-nose syndrome.
The fungal disease appeared 5 years ago in New England and quickly spread southwest to at least Tennessee, killing millions of the insect-devouring flying mammals along the way. Click here to see other Summit Voice stories on bats and white-nose syndrome.
“At least the work that is being done now is not going to grind to a halt,” said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Our bats are dying by the millions; it would be a terrible tragedy to no longer be able to marvel at the acrobatics of bats in the night skies and to lose the insect control services they provide.”
Bats are also critical pollinators for wild plants and commercial agriculture. Recognizing that value, federal agencies have launched a concerted effort to address white-nose syndrome.
The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service are also directed to prioritize “research related to white-nose syndrome in bats and the inventory and monitoring of bat resources” on their lands — but no funds are appropriated for this work.
In 2010 and 2011, Congress awarded the Fish and Wildlife Service a special appropriation of $1.9 million for white nose syndrome.
“We’re grateful that there is an appropriation to fight white-nose syndrome and save bats, although much more than $4 million is needed to truly combat this unprecedented wildlife crisis,” said Matteson. “We especially thank Senator Leahy of Vermont, who is a huge bat fan, for not forgetting what’s at stake if we lose multiple bat species.”
Leahy has consistently supported federal funding for white-nose syndrome response. He has also made cameo appearances in several Batman films.
White-nose syndrome first appeared in a bat cave near Albany, New York in 2006, and has spread to 16 states and four provinces. The fungus that causes the disease has been found on asymptomatic bats in another three states.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the federal endangered species listing of two bat species, the northern long-eared bat and the eastern small-footed bat, in 2010.
The made an initial positive finding on the petition. The Service is also reviewing the status of the little brown bat with an eye toward possible endangered listing. The species was once the most common bat in the eastern United States, but has virtually disappeared from much of its core range, suffering mortality rates over 90 percent.