No Halloween Treat for Bats: National Plan for Bat-killing Disease Too Little, Too Late

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Mollie Matteson, (802) 434-2388 (office)

No Halloween Treat for Bats: National Plan for Bat-killing Disease Too Little, Too Late

RICHMOND, VT - Four years into a wildlife disease epidemic that has already killed
more than a million bats in the eastern United States, the federal
government today finally released a national response plan for
white-nose syndrome. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plan is
still only in draft form and only provides a conceptual framework for
responding to the disease. It lists no specific action items and makes
no concrete recommendations for research and management of the
fast-spreading malady that has hit nine bat species so far, including
two on the endangered species list.

“It’s frightening to watch the government’s slow-motion
response to what biologists call one of the worst wildlife declines in
American history,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate for the
Center for Biological Diversity. “A year after it first released a
draft version of its plan, we have yet another draft, and nothing that
actually gives direction or provides resources to scientists in the lab
or biologists in the field.”

White-nose syndrome is associated with a newly identified
fungal species that grows on bats’ noses and wings and causes them to
die of starvation during the winter. From its epicenter near Albany,
NY, the disease has spread rapidly, with the fungus now found on bats
in 14 states, from New Hampshire to Oklahoma, as well as the Canadian
provinces of Quebec and Ontario. Bats play a vital role around the
country in controlling moths, beetles and other insects.

“What would Halloween be without bats? Scarier still,
what would America be without them?” Matteson said. “If we’re going to
stem the spread of this deadly disease, we need the government to move
quickly with a well-coordinated, well-funded response.  In moving too
slowly and failing to include concrete action, this plan keeps bats on
the path to extinction, and we’ll all be poorer for it.”

The national plan has been long awaited by wildlife
agencies and conservation groups as a way to push response to the
disease into higher gear. Already, some bat populations in eastern
states have declined by as much as 80 to 100 percent, and scientists
fear that as the disease spreads westward, it will eliminate entire
species of the insect-eating mammals. Insect populations may take off
as a result, biologists say.

“The nightmare of this disease is only accelerating, but
the federal government continues to waste time, as if it has decades to
figure things out. The bats can’t tolerate more dramatic losses, and
they can’t tolerate any more government foot-dragging,” said Matteson. 

As an alternative to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s
conceptual draft plan, the Center for Biological Diversity is urging the
federal government take the following actions over the coming several
months:

  • Immediately declare white-nose syndrome a wildlife emergency
  • Dedicate at least $10 million for white-nose syndrome research in next year’s Interior budget
  • Develop a systematic plan for restricting access
    to all bat-occupied caves and mines on Bureau of Land Management
    lands and prohibit nonessential human access to all U.S. Forest
    Service caves in the Southwest by the end of the year
  • Finalize the national response plan for the disease by mid-January
  • Develop a National Park Service plan by mid-February to limit the disease’s spread
  • Prohibit nonessential human access to all Forest
    Service caves in the Intermountain, Northern, Pacific Southwest
    and Pacific Northwest regions by late February

The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public
comments on the draft plan for the next 60 days. After that, it will
review the public response and finalize the plan. Specific measures for
addressing the bat disease will be contained in a subsequent
implementation plan, but there is no deadline for completion of the
implementation plan, according to Fish and Wildlife Service officials.

Background
The Center filed a petition earlier this year to close all
federally owned bat caves in the lower 48 states to protect bats from
the possible human-caused spread of the white-nose fungus. Since then,
the Forest Service has declared all bat caves in its Rocky Mountain
Region (Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and most of Wyoming and South
Dakota) off-limits to recreational use; the Bureau of Land Management
advised its state directors to take precautionary measures against the
disease, including targeted cave closures; and the Fish and Wildlife
Service administratively closed all bat caves and mines within the
national wildlife refuge system. Last year, the Forest Service closed
bat caves to recreational use in eastern and southern national forests.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to act on a Center
petition, filed last January, to list two white-nose-affected bat
species under the federal Endangered Species Act, despite clear
evidence that bat numbers have declined dramatically in the East, where
white-nose syndrome has been present the longest.

To learn more about bats and white-nose syndrome — and to see an animated map of the disease’s spread — go to
http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/bat_crisis_white-nose_syndrome/index.html.

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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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