Bat Disease Emergency Funds Sought

WASHINGTON, May 5 - Citing “profound public health, environmental, and economic implications,” the Vermont congressional delegation today asked the Obama administration for emergency funds to investigate the cause of mysterious bat deaths.

“We ask for your help in providing immediate, emergency funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey for research, management, coordination, and outreach in order to provide an appropriate coordinated response to this deadly, newly emergent disease,” Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.  The letter also was signed by 23 other members of Congress.

The delegation letter described “an alarming ecological situation in the Northeast,” where more than 1 million hibernating bats mysteriously died during the past two winters.  The disease, known as white-nose syndrome, has virtually wiped out bat populations in some caves in the eastern United States and may be spreading to other regions of the country.

The consequences for humans could be serious, the lawmakers said.  The bats prey almost exclusively on insects such as mosquitoes, which spread disease, and moths and beetles, which damage crops.  A single bat can eat more than 3,000 insects a night and an entire colony will consume hundreds of millions of crop-destroying and disease-carrying pests every year.  Bats reduce the need for pesticides, which cost farmers billions of dollars every year and may harm human health.   

The first case of the new bat disease was reported in the winter of 2006 in Howe’s Cave, near Albany, New York.  Since then, confirmed cases have occurred in Vermont and eight other states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

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.  Additional research, work, and proper resources are needed this year to fully address this crisis.

The U.S. Forest Service, meanwhile, announced on May 1 that it is closing thousands of caves and former mines in national forests in 33 states in an effort to control the fungus that has already killed an estimated 500,000 bats. Researchers think the disease is spread from bat to bat, but they have not ruled out the possibility that humans might play a role in transmitting the infection.

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David Carle: 202-224-3693

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