It has been a busy few months for all of us here at BCI. Sadly, we continue to hear devastating news about the spread of White-nose Syndrome into new states and species. In May, we learned that the WNS fungus had reached as far west as Oklahoma, where it hit a new species, the cave myotis. That’s a tragic development, but what could be even worse is that these bats commonly share caves with migratory Mexican free-tailed bats. Though biologists are uncertain whether this catastrophic disease will harm Mexican freetails or other non-hibernating species, this dramatically raises the threat to bats all across America. With migratory routes of 1,000 miles or more, freetails could spread the fungus from coast to coast and into Mexico.
Equally devastating was news that five gray myotis have tested positive for the White-nose Syndrome fungus in Missouri, at one of only a handful of gray myotis hibernacula. BCI has a long history of working on behalf of this species. After decades of concentrated effort, populations were recovering and gray myotis were well on the road to being removed from the Endangered Species List. Now, however, the gray myotis’ future is again uncertain.
BCI remains at the forefront of this issue. We have provided key funding for urgent research, helped coordinate essential meetings among scientists and wildlife managers, and we are collaborating with partners on national standards for WNS monitoring and mitigation.
This spring, I submitted testimony to both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees requesting urgent funding for WNS research and conservation actions. Mylea Bayless, our WNS staff lead, working with other conservation organizations, enlisted nearly 60 other groups and prominent individuals to join us in this testimony. For the latest on WNS, see Mylea’s report on page 5.
We also have some exciting news: In April, I was invited to the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors. The daylong event was attended by the CEOs of several hundred conservation and environmental groups. The goal of this initiative is to explore innovative new approaches and partnerships for conservation by reconnecting Americans to our magnificent natural heritage.
President Obama opened the conference by officially establishing America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack led a panel discussion on “Conserving Working Lands,” and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar led a panel on “Connecting People to Our Lands, Water and Wildlife.” At afternoon sessions, participants were asked for input on how to move this initiative forward. I offered several suggestions for how bat-related activities could get Americans outdoors again. Our invitation to this event is a measure of BCI’s status as a conservation leader at the national level and a recognition that bats play a key role in our nation’s ecosystems.
Finally, I had the privilege in early May of participating in my first BCI ecotour to the island nation of Trinidad, renowned for its spectacular biodiversity. It was a pleasure meeting some long-term BCI supporters, and we all had a terrific time learning about bats from naturalist Fiona Reid, who leads many of our ecotours. In addition to seeing numerous bird species, a silky anteater and both howler and capuchin monkeys, we caught 32 of Trinidad’s 70 bat species. What a week!
We’re already planning our next trip for 2011. Expect an announcement soon.