For Immediate Release
Fungus' Unchecked Advance Threatens Hibernating Bats Across West
DELAWARE COUNTY, Okla. - State wildlife officials announced today that the fungus that has killed millions of bats across the eastern United States has been discovered on Oklahoma bats. Three tricolored bats in a cave in Delaware County tested positive for the fungus. Although the disease caused by the fungus, known as white-nose syndrome, has not yet been observed among Oklahoma bats, this early detection is likely a precursor to the appearance of the full-blown disease in two to three years.
White-nose syndrome has spread to 26 states since it first appeared in North America in 2006. In addition to Oklahoma, bats in Mississippi and Minnesota have tested positive for the fungus.
“The continued westward march of this disease puts many new bat species at risk,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There have been dramatic and tragic losses in multiple bat species in the eastern United States — but federal and state wildlife agencies are consistently failing to provide strong legal protections for species already pushing toward extinction, and it doesn’t bode well for bats yet to be struck down by this epic wildlife crisis.”
Oklahoma is now the westernmost reach of the white-nose syndrome fungus, which has also been confirmed in Iowa bats. White-nose syndrome was found on three bats near a cave entrance in Des Moines County (two little brown bats and one northern long-eared) and on four little brown bats collected in Van Buren County this winter, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Biologists first detected the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in an Iowa cave in 2011, but did not find afflicted bats until this winter.
“We’re running the very real risk that several bat species will disappear from the planet in less than a generation,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We stand to lose not only their important services as insect-eaters, including thousands of tons of crop pests every year, but also their charming and fascinating company as fellow inhabitants of our planet.”
Despite the ongoing spread of the fatal bat disease, the protection of white-nose affected bats has been a highly contentious issue. Industries such as timber, oil and gas, mining and wind energy opposed the recent listing of the northern long-eared bat, leading to the Fish and Wildlife Service backing off its original recommendation that the species be protected as endangered. Instead, the Service listed the northern long-eared bat under the weaker “threatened” category and added a rule allowing activities that typically would be prohibited under the Endangered Species Act.
White-nose syndrome has been called the worst wildlife health crisis in recent memory, and has caused mortality rates ranging up to 100 percent among bats in affected caves. There is no known cure for the disease, which has afflicted seven bat species so far and has pushed several of them to the brink of regional extinction. Many leading bat biologists have emphasized precautionary measures, such as closures and site-specific caving gear requirements, as the best management response.
Scientists have estimated the economic value of insect-eating bats to American agriculture at $22 billion annually. Bats also eat tons of insects harmful to forests, and their guano is essential to the survival of extremely rare cave organisms like cave salamanders and fish.
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.