Emergency Petitions Filed to Close Caves and Save Bats From Extinction

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 434-2388 (office)

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 caves under their jurisdiction and
asks Interior Secretary Salazar to pass regulations banning travel
between caves under any jurisdiction. The second petition asks for the eastern small-footed bat and the northern long-eared bat, both hit hard by the newly emergent disease known as 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
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 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 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.

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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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