The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is providing much needed support in the fight against the bat-killing fungal disease white-nose syndrome (WNS) through an additional $1 million in grants to 39 states and the District of Columbia. WNS has killed millions of North American bats in recent years, decimating many populations and putting several species at additional risk of extinction.
Bats are crucial to our nation’s farmers and foresters, helping control pest insects such as beetles and locusts, and significantly reducing the amount of toxic pesticides that would otherwise be needed. Studies estimate bats save farmers at least $3.7 billion per year in lost crop revenue and pesticide savings.
Funds will help states support a national strategy for the disease, which includes increasing bat survival rates, preventing further spread and preparing for the potential arrival of the disease in new areas.
This year’s grants bring the total funding to states for WNS response over the last eight years to $8 million. This financial support is part of a Service-led, cooperative, international effort involving more than 100 state, federal, tribal, academic and non-profit partners.
“These grants are critical to helping states respond to white-nose syndrome,” said Jeremy Coleman, National White-nose Syndrome Coordinator for the Service. “We’ve seen so much collaboration and innovative work from states engaged in the international response.”
For example, last year the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries used funds to search for bats hibernating in rock rubble because Maine has only a handful of caves and mines where bats hibernate. This year they plan to expand the search to wells after talking with their counterparts to the northeast on Prince Edward Island, where bats commonly hibernate in wells. Several other states across the country will also look for bats in places other than caves and mines where the impacts of the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome have not been thoroughly documented.
First discovered in New York in the winter of 2006-2007, the WNS fungus has now spread to at least 36 states and seven Canadian provinces and infects nine of the top 10 agricultural producing states.
“Without the grants, many states would be limited in the amount of work they can do to help bats,” said Coleman.