News Releases

June 05, 2009

Scientists Ask House Subcommittees for Help With Bat Disease

WATERBURY, VT – Scott Darling, a Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department wildlife biologist, along with several other scientists, testified Thursday, June 4 at a joint hearing held by the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee and Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. in an appeal for help in combating “white nose syndrome,” a disease that is threatening six of Vermont’s nine native species of bats.

White-nose syndrome (WNS) was first discovered in bats hibernating in caves near Albany, New York in the winter of 2007. In January of 2008, bats with WNS were found in a cave at Mt. Tabor, Vermont. It was later found in bats at the Aeolus Cave in Dorset, Vermont, a site that has served as winter habitat for many bats in the entire New England region for the past 10,000 years.

Since then, WNS has appeared in bats from all of Vermont’s major bat hibernating caves and mines, and it has been discovered in states as far south as Virginia.

WNS is named for the white fungus found on the noses of infected bats that are hibernating or coming out of hibernation. The syndrome’s exact cause remains unknown.

Bats afflicted with WNS often die in the cave or mine where they are hibernating, but many come out of hibernation in a weakened condition in late winter to seek food and reach their summer habitats. People observed many of them dying near residences and other buildings.

Estimates of mortality in hibernating bat colonies have been as high as 97 percent, threatening the existence of species such as the endangered Indiana bat, which is found in Vermont.

Darling represented state fish and wildlife agencies across the country in asking for federal funding and staffing to coordinate the development and implementation of a national plan to address WNS. He suggested the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey as lead agencies. The USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin was suggested to coordinate laboratory testing of specimens.

He said coordinated research, surveillance and management with regional response teams are critical to prevent extinction of some bat species. The teams could work with state fish and wildlife agencies to help prevent the spread of the disease into new areas.

Darling concluded his testimony at the hearing by saying, “In a matter of two years, I have witnessed the devastation of a bat population my department had worked so hard to conserve. In my 27 years in this profession, I could never have imagined such a swift and dramatic decimation of an entire suite of species. Much of the country, however, is at a tipping point, watching to see if we can muster the energy, resources and public will to address this national environmental crisis.”

Source: Agency of Natural Resources
Last Updated at: June 05, 2009 08:35:47