White-nose Syndrome has transformed bat conservation and research for BCI and everyone else who's working with bats in North America. WNS' staggering impact is so overwhelming that little time or money is left for other perils, especially in the eastern states and provinces. In the West, where the disease has not yet appeared, scientists and conservationists are preparing for the worst.
The disease has killed millions of bats in 17 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces in the past six years, and scientists predict the regional extinction of once-common little brown myotis in the northeastern U.S. The previously promising recoveries of endangered Indiana and gray myotis, which BCI and its partners worked for decades to protect, are in jeopardy. And at least 25 bat species are at imminent risk.
BCI launched an early effort to deal with WNS. The fungus now called Geomyces destructans and confirmed as the cause, was first noted on bats in Howes Cave in New York in February 2006. Dead bats were discovered at a nearby cave a year later and then, in 2008, thousands of bat carcasses were found at caves in Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. WNS was on the move.
BCI was the primary funder and a key organizer of the first Science Strategy Meeting on WNS in 2008. We also established a WNS Emergency Response Fund, which awarded six grants to jump-start research while awaiting federal grants or other funds.
We are still an organizing partner for the annual WNS science meetings, and we have awarded grants totaling $128,671 for WNS research. BCI biologists, meanwhile, are working with partners to install and test innovative remote-monitoring technology to provide an early-warning system for WNS.
Under the leadership of Conservation Programs Manager Mylea Bayless, we are participating in a broad state and federal effort to implement a coordinated national response plan for WNS.
Executive Director Nina Fascione and other staff members frequently explain the facts and impacts about WNS in media interviews and presentations around the country. BCI joined with other organizations to educate members of Congress about WNS and the urgent need for federal funding. We submitted testimony to congressional committees, and both Fascione and Founder Merlin Tuttle have testified at hearings. At critical points in the funding process, BCI members responded dramatically to requests that they urge senators and representatives to support WNS-response efforts.
White-nose Syndrome is an unprecedented crisis. Yet there is cause for optimism. The work that BCI began 30 years ago is paying off today. Imagine if this disease had arrived a few decades ago, when BCI was a small and rather lonely voice for these creatures. Bats were rarely studied and intensely feared by a public that knew nothing of their benefits. The mere presence of bats provoked panic.
Things are very different today. Eminent scientists delved quickly into the White-nose mystery and have learned much about the disease. Government agencies, universities and many organizations are mobilized to face this threat and plan the post-WNS recovery. These beleaguered bats now have many allies.