For Immediate Release, January 23, 2009
Contact: Mollie Matteson, Center for Biological Diversity, (802) 434-2388 (office); (802) 318-1487 (cell)
Lethal Bat Illness Spreads to Pennsylvania and New Jersey
RICHMOND, Vt.— The puzzling disease that has killed hundreds of thousands of hibernating bats in the Northeast over the past two winters has now been confirmed in two new states. Today, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced that white-nose syndrome has been documented in Mifflin County, in central Pennsylvania, in a mine occupied by wintering bats. The syndrome has also recently been discovered afflicting hibernating bats in New Jersey.
The endangered Indiana bat is among the several species that have been dying from the syndrome. Because of pre-existing threats to Indiana bats, and the potential for the disease to spread to bats in other parts of the eastern United States, last year conservation groups notified the federal government that they would sue unless wildlife and land-management agencies reexamined their activities potentially affecting bats and took into account the new threat of white-nose syndrome.
Said Mollie Matteson, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity: “The fact that white-nose syndrome is now confirmed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and appears to be spreading to other bat wintering sites in Vermont and elsewhere, should galvanize our wildlife agencies to take all precautionary measures to stop further declines in bat populations. We are looking at the potential extinction of several species of bats in the Northeast within a few years’ time. There can be no more excuses for allowing activities that harm bats or destroy bat habitat. We may not be able to stop white-nose syndrome, but we can definitely stop cutting down forests, building roads, and allowing sprawl in places where endangered bats live.”
The announcement came just a couple weeks after news reports that bizarre bat behavior — bats flying around in the middle of winter during daylight hours — had been observed in parts of Vermont and Massachusetts. Because the reports of winter-emergent bats came earlier this year than last, scientists have speculated that the illness — which is associated with an unusual fungus that grows on the muzzles, wings, and other parts of bats — is causing symptomatic responses among the bats sooner this winter than last.
The syndrome was first discovered in caves and mines near Albany, New York in late winter 2007. It has since spread to nearly all bat known bat wintering sites in the state, as well as to Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Last year, the syndrome was suspected, but not confirmed, in Pennsylvania.
Matteson says that for now, the conservationists are taking a wait-and-see attitude with regard to the response of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies to the latest news about the bat illness.
“We know that the bats have even less margin for survival now. We need to slow or stop those activities where bats or their habitat may be harmed. We also know there are biologists desperately trying to figure out why the bats are dying, and that after eight years of Bush’s anti-environment agenda, the agencies are ill-prepared to deal with a crisis of this magnitude. The Center for Biological Diversity has supported increased federal funding to help find the cause of this terrible epidemic, and that will continue. If there’s a cure for this disease, it needs to be discovered very soon, before it’s too late.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Northeast office of the Center is in Richmond, Vermont.