New Mexico Bat Plan Should Limit Access to All State and Federal Caves

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

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

New Mexico Bat Plan Should Limit Access to All State and Federal Caves

RICHMOND, Vt. - Federal and state wildlife agencies in New Mexico today released a
plan to address the threat of white-nose syndrome, a disease that has
killed more than a million bats in four years and has spread westward
from the northeastern United States to within a couple hundred miles of
the New Mexico border. Unfortunately, the plan is not specific or
aggressive enough to stem the spread of the disease into New Mexico.

“It’s promising to see New Mexico officials working to
keep this disease out of bat caves, but the plan needs to go much
further,” said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate for the Center for
Biological Diversity. “One of the most important first steps in slowing
the spread of this disease is limiting nonessential human access to all
state and federal caves, and this plan doesn’t do that.”

The plan prioritizes the prevention of possible human
transmission of the disease into New Mexico caves and underground mines
by requiring decontamination procedures and restricting access in
“significant” bat roosts. However, no specific list of significant
roosts is provided, and limited knowledge of bats and their distribution
in New Mexico could hamper implementation of the plan unless the
government agencies adopt a “closed unless marked as open” policy with
caves and mines.

With hundreds of caves on state and federal land in New
Mexico, individual assessment and designation of sites as “significant”
could take years. Currently, approximately two dozen caves are
recognized as significant in the state. Government officials say they
will rely on reports from cavers and others to tell them whether other
sites should be considered significant. The criteria for “significance”
include being used by a bat species on the federal endangered list, and
being used as a roost or wintering site for bats that are colonial, or
group, hibernators.

“The criteria are fine, but specific information is
limited, and there’s no time to wait until all of New Mexico’s caves are
checked out,” said Matteson. “If the goal is to protect bats from the
spread of this horrific disease, then the agencies should declare that
all caves and mines are closed to nonessential access unless they’re
specifically designated as open.”

The New Mexico plan could become a model for other
western states facing the spread of white-nose syndrome, Matteson said,
but the plans need to err on the side of bats and take more aggressive
steps to reduce the chance of humans spreading the lethal bat disease.

“Scientists say white-nose syndrome could obliterate
several bat species in the near future,” Matteson said. “With all the
services bats provide to us — by controlling insect populations and
keeping pests in check — that’s not a future we want, and we should be
doing everything we can to avoid it.”

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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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