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Bat disease still spreading across USA; More action needed

07/02/2011 05:11:22

SPREADING FAST: White-nose syndrome has already killed more than a million bats in the US

White-nose syndrome has already killed a million bats
February 2011: The deadly white-nose syndrome that has already killed more than a million bats in the eastern states of America, will spread unabated if western states do not step up action to prevent it, according to the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizona.

The centre has written to all major federal public-land agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Department of the Interior, urging the immediate, complete administrative closures of all caves and abandoned mines to stop the spread of the killer syndrome.

Along with the letters, the centre also has published a report that reviews all cave-management policies of all federal land-management agencies. It concludes: ‘Despite the fact that the main threat of human transmission of white-nose syndrome is transport of the disease into entirely new regions of the country, distant from current sites, land managers still act as if distance is protective, which is not the case.

Now is the time for effective and meaningful action
‘Many western federal land managers are delaying action at the very time when action could be most meaningful and effective - in other words, before the bat disease reaches the West. Rather than delay closures of bat caves and mines until white-nose syndrome is closer to, or actually documented in, western states, federal land managers must move quickly to declare closures of all bat caves and abandoned mines, allowing access only for essential scientific research and safety purposes.'

White-nose syndrome, a deadly fungus, has already killed more than a million bats in the eastern United States. It is moving westward in what the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has called the worst wildlife health crisis in memory.

‘Federal land managers in the West need to enact emergency closures of caves and abandoned mines right away,' said Mollie Matteson, a conservation advocate at the Center. ‘Precautionary closure is the best tool we have for keeping this bat epidemic from leaping into an entirely new region of the country. Time is running out.'

Some Northeast colonies have been wiped out
White-nose syndrome first showed up in upstate New York in 2006 and has since spread throughout the eastern half of the United States. It has also been found in Ontario and Quebec. Two years ago, scientists estimated that more than a million bats had died. Since then bat mortality, spread among six different species, has continued to mount, wiping out some Northeast bat colonies completely. Last spring, the white-nose pathogen was found on a bat in western Oklahoma.

‘This dangerous, bat-killing disease is moving west. Federal land managers have a chance to limit the damage by closing caves, but that has yet to happen on a scale that will provide any meaningful protection for bats in the West,' said Matteson.

Fungus is spread by humans
The centre's report found that while federal public lands in the eastern United States are now largely off-limits to nonessential, unauthorised cave and mine access, the same is not true for the West. Other than national parks and the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S. Forest Service, most bat caves and mines on western public lands remain open and vulnerable to the spread of white-nose syndrome.

In particular, Bureau of Land Management staff indicated that the agency has no plans to enact blanket closures and no timeline for implementing even partial closures across most of the West.

Research has demonstrated that the fungal pathogen can live in cave soils and can be transported on clothing and gear into new sites. Strong evidence points to the probability that the fungus was originally transported to North America from Europe - where the fungus has been identified but does not affect bats - by people.


Wildlife Extra has been tracking the progress of the killer white-nose syndrome as it has spread across America. Click on the stories below to trace the disease's deadly spread: 


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