Bats get a gift of hope this holiday season

In some good news out of Washington (for a change), the recent appropriations bill that was passed last week contains $4 million in funding for addressing white-nose syndrome – the deadly fungal disease that has been devastating bats in the eastern half of the country.  Because so little is yet understood about white-nose syndrome, management options to control the spread of this disease are limited.  The best chance we have at stopping the precipitous decline of our bat populations is to commit resources to researching the disease in the hopes that we can develop strategies for treatment or prevention to slow or stop the spread of white-nose syndrome. 

With all of the political wrangling over finances these days, requesting funds to research a disease affecting bats often seems like a lost cause.  But given the important ecological role that bats play in regulating all kinds of insects including crop and forest pests, it has been estimated that the loss of bats due to white-nose syndrome could translate into agricultural losses between $3.7-53 billion dollars a year.  In other words, investing some money now to try to address this disease could mean saving money in the long run. 

With that in mind, we were thrilled to learn that Congress – at the urging of bat advocate Senator Leahy (D-VT) – saw to it that the new funding bill would dedicate $4 million towards white-nose syndrome.  NRDC, along with our colleagues, has worked for several years to secure as much funding as possible to address this disease.  $4 million falls short of the $50 million that scientists estimate they’d need to address the most basic questions related to white-nose syndrome and the resulting bat die off, but it’s more than the $1.8 million that Congress initially allocated to white-nose in 2009, with which the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the academic community were able to accomplish a lot. This additional funding will allow the hard work that has gone into dealing with this wildlife emergency to continue and increase the chances of finding a solution.  

Because the overall budget for the US Fish and Wildlife Service did not increase much, however, the $4 million dedicated to white-nose syndrome is not new funding, but redirected funding – meaning that it comes from elsewhere within the agency’s budget.  But it translates into a mandated allocation of resources to priority issues.  White-nose syndrome is a priority that Secretary Salazar committed to – and we have held the administration accountable.

Since the emergence of white-nose syndrome, winter has typically been a terrible time of year for bats.  When bats hibernate the cold-loving fungus that causes white-nose syndrome takes advantage of the bats’ shutdown immune system and lowered body temperatures to do its damage.  But this winter there is new hope that this additional funding will lead to effective strategies for slowing the spread of this deadly disease and safeguarding our bat populations in the future. Happy Holidays!

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