We’ve reported on the white nose syndrome (WNS) afflicting and killing bats across the U.S. for a few years now. However, the latest estimates from the Defenders of Wildlife put the number of bats killed by the disease near seven million. The population of the northern long-eared bat alone has reduced by almost 99 percent of 2007 levels. In response to the devastation wrought on this particular species, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has sadly decided to do nothing for another six months! Read on to find out how you can help campaign to get this species protected under the Endangered Species Act, before it’s too late.
WNS is a fungal disease that strikes while bats are hibernating – when their body temperatures are dramatically decreased to reduce energy and survive the winter. Attacking the bats at their weakest, the disease causes them to wake during winter, which exhausts their stored energy and drives them to starvation, dehydration and hypothermia. Colony mortality rates are frequently 100 percent.
Despite efforts to contain the disease since its emergence in 2006, it is still spreading, with three more U.S. states reporting its presence in the winter of 2013–14. According to the National Wildlife Health Center, “It is unlikely that species of bats affected by WNS will recover quickly because most are long-lived and have only a single pup per year. Consequently, even in the absence of disease, bat populations do not fluctuate widely in numbers over time.” In addition to the disease, many bat populations are suffering as a result of habitat loss, and this is particularly the case for the northern long-eared bat. Last year, due to WNS and habitat loss, the FWS finally proposed to list these bats as endangered. But Defenders of Wildlife assert that the agency came under pressure from logging and oil and gas industries that opposed the listing, hence the six-month delay on a decision to list the species.
The loss of the northern long-eared bat and other bat species has the potential to become an economic and conservation disaster. It has been estimated that insect-eating bats provide up to $53 billion worth of pest-control services every year to U.S. agriculture. Combined with habitat loss and cave disturbance, WNS could wipe out northern long-eared bats for good. Federal resources and protection are urgently needed to help save this species from extinction. Add your voice to the campaign by signing the Defenders of Wildlife online petition here. But hurry! The FWS’s comment period on the case of the northern long-eared bat ends on 29 August, 2014.
Photos by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Flickr