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Bats Need Urgent Help, Contact Fish and Wildlife

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Subject: Fish and Wildlife Service Needs a Bat Plan Now

In your new position as director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, your first priority needs to be the unprecedented crisis of white-nose syndrome, the disease that has been wiping out bats from New York to West Virginia over the last two winters. Service leadership has been sorely lacking on this issue; without swift action, we stand to lose several species in the next two to three years.

State wildlife agencies lack the personnel and resources to respond effectively to the overwhelming catastrophe of white-nose; bat ecologists, pathologists, epidemiologists, and other scientists associated with academia and independent research institutions have been striving valiantly to pitch in with the research effort, but their work can only go so far with limited resources. Overall, a lack of clear coordination, communication, and focus has thwarted an effective response to the disease, and this coming winter, with white-nose syndrome poised to strike some of the largest hibernating bat caves in the world, the need for leadership and a concrete plan is more urgent than ever.

The Service has been guilty of downplaying this disease and demurring from stating the need for additional funding, even when asked directly by members of Congress. While individual Service biologists have worked extremely hard to cope with the bat crisis on top of all their regular duties, it simply is not working for the agency to patch together a ragtag effort while other urgent wildlife programs are neglected. Lack of resources in these tough fiscal times is a reality for everyone, but the Service should be upfront that this is a desperate wildlife crisis and that only with additional resources is there a chance that the disease can be understood well enough to stop it in time.

I urge you to develop a plan for white-nose syndrome this fall, before bat deaths commence again this winter. This plan should be created in cooperation with other federal agencies, with the Fish and Wildlife Service taking the lead role. The plan should clearly state research needs, strategies for protecting affected species, and a system for efficiently coordinating communication and decision-making among the various federal and state agencies and private entities involved. The appointment of a full-time, national white-nose syndrome coordinator is a critical first step.

Ultimately, the nation's wildlife- and habitat-management agencies must come together to create a system for responding to sudden crises and newly emergent diseases like white-nose syndrome, chronic wasting disease, and chytrid fungus in amphibians. The nature of wildlife conservation is shifting with our changing global environment. We must have honest, effective, committed, and cooperative leadership if our wildlife species are to have a chance of surviving into the future.

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