May 05, 2009

Schumer, Gillibrand Urge U.S. Secretary of Interior to Provide Emergency Funding and Resources to Help Stop Spread of Mysterious Disease Killing Bats Across Upstate New York

Bats Across Upstate NY and Entire Northeast Falling Victim To Lethal Disease Known As White-Nose Syndrome; Over 1 Million Bats Have Died Since 2006

U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand today wrote a personal letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking him to provide immediate, emergency funding and resources for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey to tackle White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), a growing ecological crisis that has devastated bat populations across Upstate New York and the entire Northeast. Since the first case of WNS was reported in 2006, over one million bats have been killed.  This issue has profound public health, environmental, and economic implications: Bats are beneficial animals, keeping populations of insects like mosquitoes, moths, and beetles in check and reducing the need for pesticides, which cost farmers billions of dollars every year and are dangerous to human health. They are also critically important as pollinators.  Without immediate action, several bat species within the United States may face extinction.

White-Nose Syndrome has been found in New York in the following counties:  Clinton, Essex, Warren, Washington, Hamilton, Lewis, Jefferson, Columbia, Putnam, Albany, Schoharie, Montgomery, Ulster, Sullivan, and Onondaga.

"This issue has gone on long enough and if we don't do something soon to tackle this disease, it will continue to spread across the country threatening the existence of our bat populations," said Schumer. "Bats are one of the most beneficial creatures for Upstate New York farms and ecosystems, as they reduce the need for costly and harmful pesticides.  We must do everything we can to provide researchers with the funding and resources they need to conduct the appropriate tests to help save the bats from this mysterious disease."

"The bat population in New York is declining at an alarming rate and putting our ecosystem at risk," said Senator Gillibrand. "More research is critical to help protect the bat population, which is vital to the food chain and to our farmers, who rely on bats to reduce pesticide use."

The first case of White Nose Syndrome was reported in the winter of 2006 in Howes Cave, in Schoharie County.  Scientists working for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation observed hibernating bats with a previously unidentified white fungus on their noses and bodies. Since then, WNS has killed over one million bats throughout nine states in the northeast. Scientists recently reported that the disease appears to be spreading to Southern and Midwestern states.

In order to combat the spread of WNS, increased funding and resources are needed to determine why the bats are dying so rapidly. States, in partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, have been working diligently to establish a cause for this deadly mystery and develop solutions to this crisis, but have extremely limited resources. Additional research, work, and proper funding are needed to fully address the crisis.

To help stop the spread of White Nose Syndrome, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand joined Senators Leahy, Sanders, Byrd, Lautenberg, Menendez, Kerry, Webb, Casey, Warner, Rockefeller, Lieberman and Congressmen Welch, McHugh, Courtney, Olver, Visclosky, Gonzalez, Boucher, Hinchey, Kilpatrick, Wexler, Shea-Porter and Dogget in a letter to Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, requesting that the Department provide adequate funding to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other agencies to carry out critical research on and develop a cure for WNS.

In the letter, the Senators wrote, "We must do everything we can to stop the spread of WNS or it will continue to spread across the country decimating our bat populations.  We ask for your help in providing immediate, emergency funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey for research, management, coordination, and outreach in order to provide an appropriate coordinated response to this deadly, newly emergent disease."


A full copy of the letter is below


May 5, 2009

The Honorable Ken Salazar
Secretary
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20240

Dear Secretary Salazar:

We are faced with an alarming ecological situation in the Northeast.  Over the last two winters over one million hibernating bats have mysteriously died.  While scientists have not been able to determine the precise cause of these deaths, with mortality rates in some caves as high as 90 to 100 percent, the bats appear to be infected with a fungus that turns their noses and bodies white.  This affliction of unknown origin, dubbed White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), must be stopped.  We ask for your full support to respond to this crisis by providing immediate, emergency Fiscal Year 2009 funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey to respond to this crisis.

The first case of WNS was reported in the winter of 2006 in Howes Cave, near Albany, New York.  Scientists working for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation observed hibernating bats with a previously unidentified white fungus on their noses and bodies.  Since then, confirmed cases of WNS have shown up in nine states: Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia.  In addition, there are unconfirmed WNS reports in Rhode Island.  Given what we have seen in the past three years, it is highly likely that WNS will spread from the northeast into some of the largest and most diverse bat colonies in the nation, which are located in the southeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest.  If this happens, we risk the possibility of extinction of several bat species.

This issue has profound public health, environmental, and economic implications.  Bats are among the most beneficial animals. We are just beginning to fully appreciate the roles that bats play in North American ecosystems, and it is clear that threats like WNS have the potential to influence ecosystem function in ways that we currently do not understand. They prey almost exclusively on insects such as mosquitoes, which spread disease, and moths and beetles, which damage crops.  A single bat can easily eat more than 3,000 insects a night and an entire colony will consume hundreds of millions of these crop-destroying and disease-carrying pests every year.  Bats reduce the need for pesticides, which cost farmers billions of dollars every year and are harmful to human health. 

States, in partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, have been working diligently to establish a cause for this deadly mystery.  With extremely limited resources, scientists have been working to determine a cause and develop solutions to this crisis, while minimizing its impact on populations of hibernating bats in North America.  Additional research, work, and proper resources are needed to fully address this crisis.

We respectfully request that the Department of the Interior provide adequate funding to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other agencies to carry out critical research on and develop a cure for WNS.  As the bats emerge from their hibernation caves, it is vital that researchers have the resources in place to conduct tests this summer.  We must do everything we can to stop the spread of WNS or it will continue to spread across the country decimating our bat populations.  We ask for your help in providing immediate, emergency funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey for research, management, coordination, and outreach in order to provide an appropriate coordinated response to this deadly, newly emergent disease.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.  We look forward to your prompt response to this inquiry.   


Sincerely,




Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Bernard Sanders

Senator Robert C. Byrd

Senator Charles E. Schumer

Senator Frank R. Lautenberg

Senator Robert Menendez

Senator John F. Kerry

Senator Jim Webb

Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr.

Senator Mark R. Warner

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Senator John D. Rockefeller IV

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman

Representative Peter Welch

Representative John McHugh

Representative Joe Courtney

Representative John Olver

Representative Peter Visclosky

Representative Charlie Gonzalez

Representative Rick Boucher

Representative Maurice Hinchey

Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick

Representative Robert Wexler

Representative Carol Shea-Porter

Representative Lloyd Doggett