To the editor:
Fascinating winged creatures of the night, bats are the only true flying mammals on Earth and provide many useful services to humans, including free, nontoxic pest control of many bugs that attack farm crops, forests and people. In fact, scientists recently calculated that the pest-control services of bats are worth a whopping $3.7 to $5.3 billion annually to American agriculture.
But alarmingly, bats are in serious trouble in North America, due to a fast-spreading disease that's decimating their populations. White-nose syndrome, as this new illness is called, kills only bats and does not pose a health threat to humans. Funding for research has been extremely sparse, probably because people don't understand the critical role of bats in healthy ecosystems. Without more research, there can be no hope of finding an effective treatment for this malady, and it's likely that several bat species will go extinct in the near future.
More than 1 million bats have already died since the disease was first discovered in 2006, and it has spread from the Northeast United States to the Midwest. I support the effort to get Congress to appropriate $10.8 million to white-nose research and management. It's a small price to pay to save ourselves from billions of dollars in costs to farmers — and the likelihood that pesticide use will go up — if we lose our bats. I urge others to contact their congressional representatives and let them know how important it is we save our bats from extinction.