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For Immediate Release, June 24, 2011

Contact:  Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487

Scientists Call on Congress for More Research Funding for Bat-killing Disease,
Stress Importance of Cave Closures

WASHINGTON— Scientists and citizens called on Congress today to do more to stop a fast-spreading disease killing bats by the millions. In just five years, white-nose syndrome has spread from upstate New York, where it was first discovered in the United States, across 17 states and four Canadian provinces. In today’s hearing before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, a broad range of witnesses called on lawmakers to dedicate more funds to research on the disease and expressed the need to prohibit all-but-essential human travel into caves as a way to slow the spread of the disease by people.

“This disease is wreaking havoc on our bat populations and may soon be causing losses for the American economy, when bug-eating bats aren’t around anymore to curb destructive crop pests," said Mollie Matteson at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has advocated for increased research funding and steps to stem the spread of the disease. “The urgent need for action, including preventive measures like limiting cave access, has never been so clear.”

The need for cave closures has been hotly contested by cavers, one of whom testified today that closures weren't warranted. Scientists at the hearing, however, contradicted that claim. Dr. Justin Boyles of the University of Tennessee, a bat biologist and white-nose syndrome researcher, testified that cave-closure policies for white-nose syndrome were “warranted and prudent,” and that human-facilitated movement of the disease could be “disproportionately devastating” to bat populations because of the possibility of long-distance jumps into new regions, creating new disease epicenters.

“This hearing should lay to rest once and for all the question of whether cave closures are needed to help stem the tide of this devastating disease,” said Matteson. 

A recent study, coauthored by Dr. Boyles, estimated the value of insect-eating bats to U.S. agriculture between $3 billion and $53 billion annually. The loss of bats’ free pest-control services could result in the greater use of pesticides, with increased monetary costs to farmers as well greater environmental and public-health impacts. Dr. Boyles testified that because of their consumption of vast quantities of night-flying insects — an ecological service not provided by any other wildlife species — bats should be considered the most important wild mammal in North America.

White-nose syndrome has decimated populations of hibernating bats since its discovery in a cave in upstate New York, whence it has spread to 16 other states; the white-nose fungus that causes the disease was also found on nonsymptomatic bats in Missouri and western Oklahoma in 2010. Scientists believe the epidemic has the potential to affect all 25 hibernating bat species in the United States and, left unchecked, could cause the extinction of one or more species.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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