In only four years, the deadly bat disease known as white-nose syndrome has killed more than a million bats and moved halfway across the country from east to west, ravaging bat populations in its wake. In 2010, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the closure of all caves and bat-occupied mines on federal land, as a precaution against the human transmission of the disease. But despite the overwhelming threat to bats from people entering caves, federal land managers across much of the West have failed to enact closures of caves and abandoned mines.
We need to take swift action to protect bats from white-nose syndrome's unprecedented spread. Last spring, the white-nose-associated fungus was found on a bat in western Oklahoma, a shocking leap of 900 miles from the closest known white-nose sites in 2009. At that rate of movement, the fungus could readily show up this winter in Colorado or New Mexico, or points even farther west. In the Northeast, where white-nose syndrome has been the longest, bat colonies have suffered 90 percent mortality, or greater. Bats from six different species have died, and individuals from another three species have been detected carrying the white-nose fungus. Biologists predict the extinction of one or more bat species in the near future unless current trends change. This nightmare could soon be unfolding in the West.
There is no known way to treat white-nose syndrome. The best hope for bats is to control the movement of the illness into new parts of the country. While we cannot stop bats from spreading the illness themselves, we can limit human access to bat caves and abandoned mines, thereby reducing the risk of transmission by people.
Please tell the managers of our public lands that they must act now to give bats their best shot at survival. If we don't take action now, these important animals may be gone forever.
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Subject: Western Bats Need Protections Now
White-nose syndrome is a new and devastating disease that has killed more than a million bats throughout the eastern United States over the last four winters. The malady has spread rapidly from its epicenter in New York State and now threatens to move into the West. At this time, the only tool land managers have to try to slow the spread of this illness is to limit human access into bat caves and mines. I urge you to close caves across all federal lands to protect western bats from what some scientists have referred to as the worst wildlife die-off in North American history.
White-nose syndrome is likely spread by bats, but appears to be transmissible by people, as well. In fact, scientists believe the most likely way that the white-nose fungus, Geomyces destructans, got to North America was via the gear or clothing of people who had visited caves in Europe first. The development of decontamination procedures by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is an important step, but these are not foolproof, and in the absence of additional access restrictions they may lull cave users into thinking bats are safe and the risk of disease transmission is eliminated.
I applaud the closures of federal caves that have occurred to date. In particular, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's declaration of all caves and mines as off-limits to recreational use on national wildlife refuges sent an important message about the seriousness of white-nose syndrome. The Forest Service's emergency closures of all caves in the three easternmost regions (Eastern, Southern, and Rocky Mountain) were also very significant.
However, caves need to be closed immediately on all western federal lands, including enactment of "closed unless marked as open" policies for all caves and abandoned mines on BLM lands, emergency closure orders for all caves and abandoned mines in the Northern, Intermountain, Southwestern, Pacific Southwest/California and Pacific Northwest regions of the Forest Service, and a cessation of permitting of backcountry cave use on all National Park Service units. Where National Park Service guided cave tours are deemed sufficiently low-risk, they should proceed only with implementation of strict visitor screening and/or decontamination procedures.
While the difficulties of implementing precautionary white-nose syndrome measures are real, they cannot compare to the difficulties western ecosystems will face from an enormous reduction in bat populations. Please swiftly enact cave closures, so that our bats have the best chance possible of surviving this horrific crisis.
Please take action by June 26, 2011.
source: Center for Biological Diversity.
Please send comments and submittals to the Editor: Linda Beane
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