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June 2009, Volume 7, Number 6
WNS Goes to Congress

Leading bat scientists went to Congress in June to describe the grave threat of White-nose Syndrome to bats across North America. They told two congressional subcommittees that urgent federal action is essential to stop this disease before it is too late.
 “Never in my wildest imagination had I dreamed of anything that could pose this serious a threat to America’s bats,” Bat Conservation International President Emeritus Merlin Tuttle told the subcommittees. And he noted that he has spent the last 50 years studying and conserving bats.
After ravaging bat populations in the northeastern United States, White-nose Syndrome has moved into the American South, leaving little time to prevent what threatens to be a continentwide wildlife disaster with devastating ecological and economic consequences.
“The battle against WNS is a race against time,” said Scott Darling of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. While Vermont’s bats already have been devastated, he said, “much of the country … is at a tipping point, watching to see if we can muster the energy, resources and public will to address this national environmental crisis.”
Since WNS was discovered in a New York cave in February 2006, more than a million hibernating bats of six species have been killed by the disease in nine states. Mortality rates approaching 100 percent are reported at some sites. WNS jumped from the Northeast last winter into West Virginia and Virginia. And scientists still have far more questions than answers about the syndrome.
The scientists spoke to a joint hearing by the House Subcommittees on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife and National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. In addition to Tuttle and Darling, witnesses included: Thomas Kunz, Director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology at Boston University; Microbiologist David Blehert of the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center; Marvin Moriarty, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Regional Director; Deputy Chief Joel Holtrop of the National Forest System; and Peter Youngbaer, WNS Liaison for the National Speleological Society.
A previously undescribed, cold-loving fungus, now named Geomyces destructans, is clearly associated with the disease since it is found on the nose, ears and wings of affected bats, which produced the name, “white nose.” Kunz said it is not yet confirmed whether this fungus is the primary cause of bat mortality or how it might be killing bats. Many other basic questions remain, he said, especially including whether the fungus is geographically limited, whether and how the spread of WNS can be slowed or stopped and whether bat mortality can be reduced.
He said the federal responses to WNS have been slow, despite the dedication by staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey. The main problem, Kunz said, involves bureaucratic delays in releasing emergency funds.
State agencies in the Northeast and nongovernment organizations have helped fill some of the void, he said, but their resources are limited. Groups such as BCI and the National Speleological Society have provided emergency research funds.
“Urgent Congressional action is needed to establish a clear leadership role at the federal level, to require development of a national strategy to understand and combat White-nose Syndrome and to fund targeted research and mitigation efforts nationally,” Tuttle told the subcommittees.
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We are hopeful Congress will respond to these requests for urgent action, but waiting is not an option. Please help fight the worst threat ever faced by North America’s bats by contributing to BCI’s WNS Emergency Response Fund. Visit www.batcon.org/wnsdonate.

BCI Members can read the full report of the hearings and related WNS news in the Summer issue of BATS magazine.

All articles in this issue:
WNS Goes to Congress
Leading bat scientists went to Congress in June to describe the grave threat of White-nose Syndrome to bats across North America. ...

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Unless otherwise noted, all images are copyright ©Merlin D. Tuttle and/or ©Bat Conservation International