Deadly bat epidemic could cause billions in agricultural damage
June 02, 2011
Source: Jean Williams, The Examiner
A mysterious fungal-like disease that has been fatal to bats was first discovered by scientists in 2006 and six species have been adversely impacted. More than a million bats have already died and many are feared to follow if drastic measures are not taken to address the crisis.
On Wednesday, according to a statement from Center for Biological Diversity, a broad coalition of conservationists, organic farmers, along with anti-pesticide and food safety groups have called on Congress to take action to stop the bat die-off. Scientists refer to the disease as the white-nose syndrome, because it turns hair on the bat's nose, ears and cheeks a whitish color.
The groups urge the passing of Wildlife Disease Emergency Act, which would appropriate $10.8 million for research and management of the bat-killing disease and has been found in 17 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces.
"White-nose syndrome is a wildlife crisis of unprecedented proportions," said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, which spearheaded today's congressional letter. "Left unchecked, the loss of bats is likely to have cascading effects on both the human and natural worlds for generations to come."
The disease is a unique cold-thriving pathogen that strikes hibernating bats and researchers believe it possibly found its way into U.S. bat caves on the boots or gear of European visitors, although bats in Europe have been found carrying the fungus, without fatal symptoms. The disease has already rendered 3 bat species essentially extinct in some North Eastern states, where the disease made its initial appearance.
Insect-eating bats play an important economic role in agriculture and timber production. A study published earlier this year in the journal Science found that the value of bats' pest-control services to agricultural operations in the United States ranges from $3.7 billion to $53 billion per year.
"Bats are friends to farmers — particularly organic farmers," Matteson said. "They eat thousands of tons of insects each year, and without them growers will need to use more pesticides or risk more crop losses. American agriculture can't afford to lose these valuable bats."
The conservationists are calling on Congress to pass the Wildlife Disease Emergency Act, which was introduced this session by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), to provide a framework and funding mechanism for effectively addressing wildlife disease crises like white-nose syndrome.
"Adequate funding for research is desperately needed to give scientists the best shot at finding a cure," Matteson said. "Meanwhile, federal and state wildlife agencies need funding help also, so they aren't shifting scarce monies away from other important wildlife issues just to barely keep up with this fast-moving epidemic."
The Center was joined in its request to Congress by Beyond Pesticides, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Center for Food Safety, Local Harvest, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, Northeast Organic Farming Association—Connecticut, Northeast Organic Farming Association—Vermont, Organic Consumers Association, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, and TEDX (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange).
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