Bat Conservation International took the fight against White-nose Syndrome to Washington, D.C., in October, strategizing with other leading nonprofits and educating Congress about the desperate need for federal money to support WNS research and mitigation.
The three-day visit was “a smashing success,” said BCI Executive Director Nina Fascione. “BCI and our partners, especially the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), dramatically raised awareness of bats and the threat of White-nose Syndrome on Capitol Hill.”
A briefing for congressional aides was held in a room that seats 70 people, she said, “and we had a standing-room-only crowd. The questions after our presentations were intelligent and indicated a high level of interest in the White-nose Syndrome situation. And as icing on the cake, Senator Patrick Leahy’s environmental aide stood up and urged everyone in the room to get their bosses to support funding for dealing with this disease.”
Leahy (D-Vermont) and Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-New Hampshire) have requested $5 million for WNS work in the 2011 federal budget, although that funding is far from certain. In the meantime, BCI and others are working Congressional allies to get vital WNS support included in the President’s 2012 budget.
The Capitol Hill effort was made possible thanks to a partnership with the NRDC and a grant from Beneficia Foundation, which was used to bring together key players from 10 conservation organizations for a daylong meeting. The groups shared ideas for raising awareness about the devastating impact of White-nose Syndrome on bats – and the ecological and economic consequences across North America.
At the session for Congressional staffers, Fascione reported on the history and status of White-nose Syndrome, which has killed more than a million bats in eastern states and is now poised on the edge of the western United States. University of California-Santa Cruz biologist Winifred Frick, whose recent, widely reported research predicts that WNS is likely to cause regional extinctions of the once-common little brown myotis, described the most urgent research needs. The NRDC sponsored a presentation by organic farmer James Roby, who warned that pesticide use might increase as insect-eating bat populations are decimated by WNS.
Fascione and Mylea Bayless, BCI’s White-nose Syndrome Response Coordinator, spent the third day in Washington visiting about 15 congressional offices. These face-to-face discussions explained why and how prompt federal funding is critical to saving American bats.
“Because White-nose Syndrome is a non-partisan issue, we were hearing strong support from congressional offices on both sides of the aisle,” Fascione said.
“Our Hill visits were so productive that we may repeat them in February,”