With Bat Extinctions Looming, 1.5 Million Dead, Group Says Feds Must Make Saving Bats First Priority

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 434-2388 (office); (802) 318-1487 (cell)

With Bat Extinctions Looming, 1.5 Million Dead, Group Says Feds Must Make Saving Bats First Priority

RICHMOND, Vt. - Mounting evidence that several species of bats have been all but eliminated from the Northeast due to a new disease known as white-nose syndrome
prompted a conservation group to send a letter today to Sam Hamilton,
the new director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, urging that
action on the bat epidemic be his first priority.

In
the letter, Kierán Suckling, executive director of the national,
nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, wrote: "...while we suspect
you are still unpacking boxes in your new office, we feel compelled to
spotlight a wildlife emergency of the highest order. This crisis, the
bat epidemic known as white-nose syndrome, cannot afford any delay
before receiving your focused attention."

The bat
disease appears to be caused by a fungus unknown to science before the
outbreak was first documented two winters ago in bat caves near Albany,
New York. Since then, white-nose syndrome - so named because of the
fungal growth around bats' muzzles - has spread to nine states and
killed an estimated 1.5 million bats. Bats from New England to West
Virginia are now affected by the illness, and scientists fear that this
coming winter the syndrome will show up in Kentucky and Tennessee,
where some of the largest bat colonies in the world are located.

"Scientists
are saying this disease could be on the West Coast in two to three
years, at the rate it is spreading," said Mollie Matteson, a wildlife
biologist and conservation advocate for the Center in its Richmond,
Vermont office. "Some scientists are even warning that under a
worst-case scenario, we may lose all bats in North America. Such a
tragedy could have disastrous consequences for agriculture and
ecosystems because of the role of bats in insect control and
pollination."

The Center's letter was sent in
response to preliminary reports from bat surveys last winter and this
summer, which show many affected bat populations in New England and New
York reduced to 10 percent or less of former numbers. The letter also
points to the severe lack of funding for research and the absence of a
nationwide plan for addressing white-nose syndrome as major impediments
to stopping this wildlife crisis.

"The U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service is clearly the most appropriate agency to take the
lead in addressing what is rapidly becoming a national wildlife
disaster," Suckling's letter went on to say. "Yet the agency has still
not created a dedicated, full-time position for a white-nose syndrome
coordinator, nor has it requested funds adequate to address the growing
crisis."

The Center called for the Fish and Wildlife
Service to create a national white-nose syndrome plan that includes
research priorities, a system for coordination with other federal and
state agencies, a budget, and a plan for protecting bats, both those
already affected as well as populations not yet infected.

Congress
has thus far responded to pleas for additional funding from scientists
and conservation groups by appropriating $500,000 for white-nose
syndrome monitoring. This is only 10 percent of what biologists,
testifying at congressional hearings earlier this year, said was
needed. The Fish and Wildlife Service itself has not submitted a
funding request for the disease.

Suckling warned in
his letter to Director Hamilton that: "Crucial research projects that
could further our understanding of the disease and the mechanism by
which it spreads are not happening, due to lack of resources. Without
this knowledge, there's little chance we'll discover a way to stop the
disease in time to save species from extinction."

Read the Center's letter to Director Hamilton here.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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