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At the urging of Senator Patrick Leahy, a federal agency on Tuesday Jan 17 updated and greatly increased its estimate of bat mortality from white-nose syndrome, the devastating disease decimating bat populations in Vermont and across the United States.
Leahy has long led efforts in the Senate Appropriations Committee for research funding to counter WNS, a wildlife crisis of unprecedented scale. In December, Leahy wrote to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe asking for an update to the statistic for how many bats have been affected and killed by WNS.
Since 2009, the agency had suggested that “over one million bats” have been killed by WNS, a doubling from 2008 reports. On Tuesday, agency officials estimated that at least 5.7 million bats — as few as 5.7 million and as many as 6.7 million — have been lost in North America to WNS.
White-nose syndrome first appeared in a bat cave near Albany, New York in 2006 and has spread to 16 states and 4 Canadian provinces. The fungus that causes the disease, Geomyces destructans, has been found on asymptomatic bats in another three states. With some Vermont caves losing 95 percent or more in hibernating bat populations, last year the little brown bat and the northern long-eared bat were added to Vermont’s Endangered Species list.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is also reviewing the status of the little brown bat for possible federal endangered listing. Once the most common bat in the Eastern United States, the little brown bat has virtually disappeared from much of its core range, suffering mortality rates of more than 90 percent.
Leahy said, “These numbers make clear that we haven’t yet seen the bottom of this deepening wildlife crisis. Targeted research and urgency are vital to this effort, and accurate data is an essential component.”