According to the USGS National Wildlife site, "A previously undescribed, cold-loving fungus has been linked to white-nose syndrome, a condition associated with the deaths of over 100,000 hibernating bats in the northeastern United States. The findings were released ahead of print on ScienceXpress on October 30, 2008 and are published in the January 9, 2009 issue of Science."
Why should we drive ourselves batty over this issue, beyond the issue for those who are Bat-fans? Because, as Rick Reynolds, Wildlife Diversity Biologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, put it: "If we don't have bats out there, kind of keeping these (pest) populations in check, then we're going to have to control them with some other means, which is most likely going to be increased use of insecticides," says Reynolds. "That, of course is costly to farmers and that cost is mostly likely going to be passed on to the consumer."
I wrote to NY Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who replied helpfully:
"Thank you for contacting me regarding your concern for White-Nose Syndrome and its effect on our bat population. I share your view on this issue, which is why I sent a personal letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking him to provide immediate, emergency funding and resources for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey to tackle White-Nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is a growing ecological crisis that has devastated bat populations across Upstate
and the entire Northeast.
Since the first case of WNS was reported in 2006, over one million bats have died. This issue has profound public health, environmental and economic implications as bats are beneficial animals that keep populations of insects such as mosquitoes, moths and beetles in check, thus reducing the need for pesticides, which cost farmers billions of dollars every year and threaten human health. Bats are also critically important pollinators. Without immediate action, several bat species within the United States may face extinction.
In order to combat the spread of WNS, increased funding and resources are needed to determine why the bats are dying so rapidly. States, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, have been working diligently to establish a cause for this deadly mystery and develop solutions to this crisis, but have extremely limited resources. Additional research, work and proper funding are needed to fully address this crisis, and I will work with my colleagues in the Senate to secure the needed resources."
(On a personal note, I have found the Senator - she was appointed to replace Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, on January 23, 2009 - to be quite responsive to her new constituency).
Bats, like frogs and honeybees, are an indicator species because they are wide-spread in many environments, exist in large populations, albeit diminishing ones, and are at the top of a short food-chain. The Senator is exactly right to be concerned, as should we all.
**** UPDATE ****
Valley News, September 24, 2009
Survey: Bats Decimated In S. Strafford
Mine Population Wiped Out By White-Nose Syndrome
By Katie Beth Ryan
Strafford -- The mysterious condition that is killing bat populations in New England and elsewhere has had devastating consequences at the Elizabeth Mine in South Strafford.
A study conducted Sept. 10 at the mine during "swarm" season, during which bats court and mate before hibernating, indicated that the hibernating bat population has nearly been eradicated, with just one bat observed entering a trap set up at the site.
Considered one of the region's most important bat hibernacula, or hibernating spot, Elizabeth Mine has sheltered as many as 950 hibernating bats in the last few years, according to Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department biologist Scott Darling.