[House Hearing, 111 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
WHITE-NOSE SYNDROME: WHAT'S KILLING BATS IN THE NORTHEAST?
JOINT OVERSIGHT HEARING
SUBCOMMITTEE ON INSULAR AFFAIRS,
OCEANS AND WILDLIFE
joint with the
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS,
FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS
COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED ELEVENTH CONGRESS
Thursday, June 4, 2009
Serial No. 111-21
Printed for the use of the Committee on Natural Resources
Available via the World Wide Web: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/congress/
Committee address: http://resourcescommittee.house.gov
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COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES
NICK J. RAHALL, II, West Virginia, Chairman
DOC HASTINGS, Washington, Ranking Republican Member
Dale E. Kildee, Michigan Don Young, Alaska
Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, American Elton Gallegly, California
Samoa John J. Duncan, Jr., Tennessee
Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Jeff Flake, Arizona
Frank Pallone, Jr., New Jersey Henry E. Brown, Jr., South
Grace F. Napolitano, California Carolina
Rush D. Holt, New Jersey Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington
Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona Louie Gohmert, Texas
Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Guam Rob Bishop, Utah
Jim Costa, California Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania
Dan Boren, Oklahoma Doug Lamborn, Colorado
Gregorio Sablan, Northern Marianas Adrian Smith, Nebraska
Martin T. Heinrich, New Mexico Robert J. Wittman, Virginia
George Miller, California Paul C. Broun, Georgia
Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts John Fleming, Louisiana
Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Mike Coffman, Colorado
Maurice D. Hinchey, New York Jason Chaffetz, Utah
Donna M. Christensen, Virgin Cynthia M. Lummis, Wyoming
Islands Tom McClintock, California
Diana DeGette, Colorado Bill Cassidy, Louisiana
Ron Kind, Wisconsin
Lois Capps, California
Jay Inslee, Washington
Joe Baca, California
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, South
John P. Sarbanes, Maryland
Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire
Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts
Frank Kratovil, Jr., Maryland
Pedro R. Pierluisi, Puerto Rico
James H. Zoia, Chief of Staff
Rick Healy, Chief Counsel
Todd Young, Republican Chief of Staff
Lisa Pittman, Republican Chief Counsel
SUBCOMMITTEE ON INSULAR AFFAIRS, OCEANS AND WILDLIFE
MADELEINE Z. BORDALLO, Guam, Chairwoman
HENRY E. BROWN, JR., South Carolina, Ranking Republican Member
Dale E. Kildee, Michigan Don Young, Alaska
Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, American Jeff Flake, Arizona
Samoa Doug Lamborn, Colorado
Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Robert J. Wittman, Virginia
Frank Pallone, Jr., New Jersey John Fleming, Louisiana
Gregorio Sablan, Northern Marianas Jason Chaffetz, Utah
Donna M. Christensen, Virgin Bill Cassidy, Louisiana
Islands Doc Hastings, Washington, ex
Diana DeGette, Colorado officio
Ron Kind, Wisconsin
Lois Capps, California
Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire
Frank Kratovil, Jr., Maryland
Pedro R. Pierluisi, Puerto Rico
Nick J. Rahall, II, West Virginia,
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS
RAUL M. GRIJALVA, Arizona, Chairman
ROB BISHOP, Utah, Ranking Republican Member
Dale E. Kildee, Michigan Don Young, Alaska
Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii Elton Gallegly, California
Grace F. Napolitano, California John J. Duncan, Jr., Tennessee
Rush D. Holt, New Jersey Jeff Flake, Arizona
Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Guam Henry E. Brown, Jr., South
Dan Boren, Oklahoma Carolina
Martin T. Heinrich, New Mexico Louie Gohmert, Texas
Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania
Maurice D. Hinchey, New York Robert J. Wittman, Virginia
Donna M. Christensen, Virgin Paul C. Broun, Georgia
Islands Mike Coffman, Colorado
Diana DeGette, Colorado Cynthia M. Lummis, Wyoming
Ron Kind, Wisconsin Tom McClintock, California
Lois Capps, California Doc Hastings, Washington, ex
Jay Inslee, Washington officio
Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, South
John P. Sarbanes, Maryland
Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire
Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts
Pedro R. Pierluisi, Puerto Rico
Nick J. Rahall, II, West Virginia,
Hearing held on Thursday, June 4, 2009........................... 1
Statement of Members:
Bordallo, Hon. Madeleine Z., a Delegate in Congress from Guam 1
Prepared statement of.................................... 2
Cassidy, Hon. Bill, a Representative in Congress from the
State of Louisiana......................................... 3
Grijalva, Hon. Raul M., a Representative in Congress from the
State of Arizona........................................... 4
Statement of Witnesses:
Darling, Scott R., Wildlife Biologist, Vermont Fish and
Wildlife Department........................................ 38
Prepared statement of.................................... 39
Holtrop, Joel, Deputy Chief, National Forest System, Forest
Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.................... 13
Prepared statement of.................................... 14
Kunz, Thomas H., Ph.D., Director, Center for
Ecology and Conservation Biology, Professor of Biology,
Boston University.......................................... 52
Prepared statement of.................................... 54
Response to questions submitted for the record........... 59
Moriarty, Marvin, Northeast Regional Director, Fish and
Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.......... 4
Prepared statement of.................................... 6
Response to questions submitted for the record........... 9
Tuttle, Merlin D., Ph.D., Founder and President Emeritus, Bat
Conservation International................................. 29
Prepared statement of.................................... 30
Response to questions submitted for the record........... 37
Youngbaer, Peter, White Nose Syndrome Liaison, National
Speleological Society...................................... 45
Prepared statement of.................................... 47
Response to questions submitted for the record........... 51
Additional materials supplied:
Fascione, Nina, Vice President for Field Conservation
Programs, Defenders of Wildlife, Statement submitted for
the record................................................. 73
Matteson, Mollie, Conservation Advocate, Center for
Biological Diversity, Letter submitted for the record...... 71
JOINT OVERSIGHT HEARING ON WHITE-NOSE SYNDROME: WHAT'S KILLING BATS IN
Thursday, June 4, 2009
U.S. House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans
and Wildlife, joint with the
Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands
Committee on Natural Resources
The Subcommittees met, pursuant to call, at 10:01 a.m. in
Room 1324, Longworth House Office Building, The Honorable
Madeleine Z. Bordallo [Chairwoman of the Subcommittee on
Insular Affairs] and The Honorable Raul M. Grijalva [Chairman
of the Subcommittee on National Parks] presiding.
Present: Representatives Bordallo, Grijalva, Napolitano,
Shea-Porter, Tsongas, and Cassidy.
STATEMENT OF HON. MADELEINE Z. BORDALLO, A DELEGATE TO CONGRESS
Ms. Bordallo [presiding]. Good morning, everyone. If there
are people standing in the back, we always invite you to come
and take the chairs here in the lower section here, this round
table here. Thank you.
The Joint Oversight Hearing by the Subcommittee on National
Parks, Forests and Public Lands and the Subcommittee on Insular
Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife will come to order.
Today, we will hear testimony concerning an unprecedented
disease affecting bats known as the White-Nose Syndrome. Under
Committee Rule 4[g], the Chairwoman, Chairman and the Ranking
Minority Members will make opening statements.
White-Nose Syndrome is named for the striking fungal growth
on the muzzles, the ears and the wings of bats. Little is known
about this disease but it was first documented west of Albany,
New York, in February of 2006. Over the last three years,
White-Nose Syndrome has spread to nine states from New
Hampshire to West Virginia. The mortalities are astonishing,
reaching up to 100 percent in some caves and mines.
There is great concern that White-Nose Syndrome may quickly
spread to southern and midwestern regions, and ravage both
healthy and endangered species of bats.
White-Nose Syndrome in bats has profound public health,
environmental, and economic impacts. Bats are nature's best
control of insect populations as a single bat can eat its
entire weight in insects in one night. When not controlled,
many insects spread disease and others are agricultural pests.
One study estimated that the value of bats in controlling
cotton pests in parts of Texas was as great as $1.7 million per
year. Their decline will likely have far-reaching ramifications
for both agriculture and public health.
Bats with White-Nose Syndrome exhibit uncharacteristic
behaviors and emerge from hibernation during the winter,
consuming fat reserves which may result in starvation.
Transmission of the disease is not fully understood but is
believed to be bat to bat or possibly transferred by humans who
visit affected caves.
Given this limited understanding, the Fish and Wildlife
Service has issued an advisory, asking for a voluntary
moratorium on caving activities in affected areas and some
caves on Forest Service, state, and private lands have been
While I commend this action, the severe mortality and the
sudden spread of White-Nose Syndrome demonstrate the need for a
rapid response beyond closing caves where bats live. We must
quickly ascertain the causes of, and the vectors for, the
spread of White-Nose Syndrome to avoid what could be an
ecological and economic disaster if it remains unchecked.
So, this morning I look forward to hearing from our invited
witnesses who under limited resources have been working
cooperatively and diligently to understand and manage White-
Nose Syndrome in bats, and I appreciate their recommendations
on how this challenge can quickly be met.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Bordallo follows:]
Statement of The Honorable Madeleine Z. Bordallo, Chairwoman,
Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife
White-Nose Syndrome is named for the striking fungal growth on the
muzzles, ears, and wings of bats. Little is known about this disease,
but it was first documented west of Albany, New York in February of
2006. Over the last three years, White-Nose Syndrome has spread to nine
States, from New Hampshire to West Virginia. The mortalities are
astonishing, reaching up to 100 percent in some caves and mines. There
is great concern that White-Nose Syndrome may quickly spread to
southern and mid-western regions and ravage both healthy and endangered
species of bats.
White-Nose Syndrome in bats has profound public health,
environmental, and economic impacts. Bats are nature's best control of
insect populations, as a single bat can eat its entire weight in
insects in one night. When not controlled, many insects spread disease
and others are agricultural pests. One study estimated that the value
of bats in controlling cotton pests in parts of Texas was as great as
$1.7 million dollars per year. Their decline will likely have far
reaching ramifications for both agriculture and public health.
Bats with White-Nose Syndrome exhibit uncharacteristic behaviors
and emerge from hibernation during the winter, consuming fat reserves,
which may result in starvation. Transmission of the disease is not
fully understood, but is believed to be bat-to-bat or possibly
transferred by humans who visit affected caves. Given this limited
understanding, the Fish and Wildlife Service has issued an advisory
asking for a voluntary moratorium on caving activities in affected
areas and some caves on Forest Service, State, and private lands have
While I commend this action, the severe mortality and the sudden
spread of White-Nose Syndrome demonstrate the need for a rapid response
beyond closing caves where bats live. We must quickly ascertain the
causes of and vectors for the spread of White-Nose Syndrome to avoid
what could be an ecological and economic disaster, if it remains
I look forward to hearing from our invited witnesses who, under
limited resources, have been working cooperatively and diligently to
understand and manage White-Nose Syndrome in bats, and I appreciate
their recommendations on how this challenge can quickly be met.
Ms. Bordallo. As Chairwoman of this Subcommittee, I now
recognize Mr. Cassidy, the acting Ranking Republican Member of
the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, for
any statement that he may have.
STATEMENT OF HON. BILL CASSIDY, A REPRESENTATIVE IN CONGRESS
FROM THE STATE OF LOUISIANA
Mr. Cassidy. Thank you. Some of which I say will be a
repeat but it is worth acknowledging again.
Good morning. Today, we will examine the White-Nose
Syndrome affecting our bat populations. We know little about
the cause of this disease, and how we can stop it from
spreading to caves and mines throughout the United States. What
we do know is that the White-Nose fungus was first documented
in a single cave in the Adirondack Mountains in New York in
February 2006. Since that time, its prevalence has dramatically
increased across New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.
It has been responsible for the deaths of a million or more
bats, and if left unchecked has the potential to wipe out
several species of bats, including the highly endangered
Indiana bat and the Virginia big-eared bat.
While I am pleased that both Federal, state, and local
agencies have taken proactive steps to combat the White-Nose
Syndrome by closing caves, mines and sink holes, it is critical
that the cause be identified and an effective strategy
developed before the onset of next winter. We must stop this
disease before it spreads to other states, for example, my own,
Louisiana, or Texas.
We need a large, healthy bat population in the United
States and across the planet. Bats are important to
agriculture. Bats consume more than 3,000 insects a night. An
entire colony of bats eats millions of crop-destroying and
disease-carrying pests. They reduce the need for pesticides
and, by so doing, save farmers billions of dollars a year.
In fact, the Smithsonian recently issued a report
documenting bats consume roughly twice as much plant-eating
insects as do birds.
I am also pleased to hear that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service recently approved a two-year $1.3 million state
wildlife grant to find the cause of the White-Nose Syndrome,
how it is transmitted, and how to stop the disease from
spreading. We hope these efforts are successful.
In the meantime, Madam Chairwoman, we will hear from a
distinguished panel of witnesses today. I am hopeful that we
will gain a better understanding of this disease and we will
hear about effective ways we can stop it in the very near
Again, thank you, Madam Chairwoman.
Ms. Bordallo. I thank the Ranking Member for his opening
statement, and now it is my distinct pleasure to recognize Mr.
Grijalva who is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National
Parks, Forests and Public Lands, and I will mention that this
is a joint hearing. So, Mr. Grijalva's Subcommittee is also
chairing this particular hearing. And so now I would like to
recognize the gentleman from Arizona to give his opening
STATEMENT OF HON. RAUL M. GRIJALVA, A REPRESENTATIVE IN
CONGRESS FROM THE STATE OF ARIZONA
Mr. Grijalva. Thank you, Madam Chairwoman, and let me
associate myself with your opening comments and the Ranking
Member's opening comments.
The only point that I want to add is that White-Nose
Syndrome is the issue that we are dealing with right now--the
cause, how to contain, how to mitigate what is going on. It is
a potential ecological disaster, as the Chairwoman aptly
But I also think that how we respond, how we gather the
information, how we look at root cause is also essential
because I think this challenge is not isolated to the White-
Nose Syndrome. Likely with the growing impact of climate
change, we will need to respond more and more to unknown
diseases, unprecedented deaths in animal populations. Our
ability to determine the level of response will be key in
minimizing any negative effects of these threats.
I want to thank all the witnesses. I am particularly
interested in how the Federal agencies are going to coordinate
and respond in a timely manner, and look forward to the
witnesses, and thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Ms. Bordallo. I thank the gentleman who is co-chairing this
hearing, the gentleman from Arizona.
I would also like to mention joining us on the dais here is
the gentlelady from California, The Honorable Grace Napolitano.
And now at this time I would like to introduce the
witnesses. First, we have Mr. Marvin Moriarty, the Northeast
Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and
Mr. Joel Holtrop, Deputy Chief, National Forest System.
As we begin, gentlemen, I would note for the witnesses that
the red timing light on the table will indicate when five
minutes have past and your time has concluded. We would
appreciate your cooperation in complying with these limits, but
be assured that your full written statement will be submitted
for the record.
So, at this point, I would like to recognize Mr. Moriarty.
Welcome, and please begin.
STATEMENT OF MARVIN MORIARTY, NORTHEAST REGIONAL DIRECTOR,
UNITED STATES FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE
Mr. Moriarty. Thank you very much. Chairwoman Bordallo and
Chairman Grijalva, and Members of the Subcommittees, my name is
Marvin Moriarty, and currently I am the Acting Deputy Director
of the Fish and Wildlife Service. This just happened on Monday.
I am here for a month, but I am representing the Department of
the Interior, and when I do go home in July, I will resume my
position as the Northeast Regional Director of the Fish and
I would really like to thank you for the opportunity to
testify about White-Nose Syndrome. It is an emerging disease
which has spread rapidly and is posing a serious threat to U.S.
White-Nose Syndrome was first recorded in 2007 in a cave
near Albany, New York, and is associated with greater than 90
percent mortality of hibernating bats in more than 65 caves
through nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Six bat species
have been affected thus far, including the Federally endangered
Indiana bat. The sudden and widespread mortality associated
with this syndrome has never been observed before in the more
than 1,100 known bat species.
The white powdery substance on the faces of affected bats
is caused by a fungus never before documented. A description of
the fungus has been published in a scientific journal this
month by the U.S. Geological Survey and other scientists. It
apparently grows only in cold temperatures. When hibernating
bats lower their body temperature significantly and pack
together, these two factors seem to promote the spread of the
fungus from bat to bat.
Most of the bats affected live about five to 15 years and
have only one offspring per year, and thus populations will be
slow to recover, if at all, from this disease.
The verification of White-Nose Syndrome in West Virginia
and Virginia caves last winter indicates its potential spread
to Southeastern and Midwestern states. These states support
larger populations of hibernating bats, including millions of
individuals of several species. Other bat species may be
impacted if the disease spreads.
In response to this crisis, the Department of the Interior
is leading a coordinated response among the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park
Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other Federal
agencies, affected states, the academic community, private
nonprofit organizations, and other stakeholders.
Through funding provided by the Department we have
assembled a team of experts from more than 50 partner agencies
and organizations. This community is working together to
monitor the spread of the White-Nose Syndrome and mortality in
affected bats, to identify the mechanisms of transmission, to
research the cause, and to develop management and containment
options for wildlife managers, which we expect to be in place
this coming September.
The Department is also working closely with the
recreational caving and cave research communities to develop
decontamination protocols and cave access recommendations to
prevent potential spread through human activities.
In March of 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued an
advisory recommending voluntary suspension of caving activities
in affected and adjoining states. The National Park Service has
closed wild caves and mines in several units, although large
commercial caves and national park units remain open at this
time. More closures will occur in response to any spread of the
In conclusion, White-Nose Syndrome is the greatest
challenge to bat conservation we have ever faced, and we are
employing an approach that combines the strengths of each of
our bureaus and our partners.
As climate change significantly alters habitats and
introduces other stressors to native fish and wildlife, we may
experience other changes to fish and wildlife populations in
the United States. Moving through this challenge will help us
further develop a model for successful community-based
responses to emerging wildlife diseases.
The Department appreciates the interest of the Committee
and your respective Subcommittees in White-Nose Syndrome and of
the efforts our community is taking to address it. We look
forward to working with you to slow the spread of this disease
and to mitigate its impact on bat populations.
Again I thank you for the opportunity to testify before you
today, and I would be happy to answer any questions that you or
the Committee members might have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Moriarty follows:]
Statement of Marvin Moriarty, Regional Director, Northeast Region,
Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior
Chairwoman Bordallo, Chairman Grijalva, and Members of the
Subcommittees, I am Marvin Moriarty, Regional Director for the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service's Northeast Region. Thank you for the
opportunity to testify about an emerging wildlife disease, known as
white-nose syndrome, which has spread rapidly through the Northeast and
is posing a serious threat to bats.
White-nose syndrome (WNS) is a term given to a disease first
recorded in March of 2007 in bats hibernating in a cave near Albany,
New York. WNS is associated with greater than 90% mortality of
hibernating bats in affected caves throughout the Northeast, with close
to 100% mortality in some locations. Thus far, six bat species have
been affected, including the federally endangered Indiana bat. Other
currently affected species are the little brown bat, northern long-
eared bat, tri-colored bat, big brown bat, and small-footed bat. The
sudden and widespread mortality associated with WNS has never been
observed before in any of the more than 1,100 species of bats known to
Affected bats display a white, powdery substance on their faces
and, on closer examination, many show tissue damage and scarring in
their wings. Based on microscopic analysis, the powdery substance and
tissue damage is a fungus from a group of fungi that is commonly found
in the environment. However, this particular species of fungus has
never before been described by scientists. This species grows only in
cold temperatures, and unlike most fungi, it invades living tissues.
When hibernating, bats lower their body temperature significantly, and
they pack tightly together--two factors which seem to promote the
spread of the fungus from bat to bat. Although the primary vector of
transmission is believed to be from bat-to-bat, WNS may be
inadvertently spread from cave to cave by human activity in caves. WNS
has spread into new areas farther away and faster than expected in
typical bat migration patterns. Often when WNS affects a new area, it
appears first in caves with high human visitation. Nearby caves that do
not receive significant human traffic remain unaffected, at least
initially. On March 26, 2009, The Service issued an advisory asking for
a voluntary moratorium on caving in any state with confirmed WNS sites
and in any adjacent states (available at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/
The exact cause of mortality of affected bats is not yet fully
understood, but the newly identified fungus is considered a likely
contributor. Dead bats are often found to be emaciated, and bats in
affected caves have been observed exhibiting more activity than is
normal during hibernation, including leaving caves on cold winter days.
Since 2007, WNS has been documented in more than 65 caves with
hibernating bats in nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.
There are gaps in our current scientific understanding of bat
populations, ecology, biology, and life history. However, we can use
existing information and our recently gathered knowledge about the
newly-discovered fungus to piece together an initial assessment of the
impacts of WNS on affected bats and potential impacts on their
The species of bats thus far affected by WNS are insectivorous, and
they all rely on hibernation as a strategy for surviving harsh winter
conditions when their insect food is not available. Prior to
hibernation, these bats build up fat reserves to sustain them through
the winter. To survive winter months without food, bats slow their
metabolism and hibernate, so that most of the time their body
temperature remains just a few degrees above air temperature in the
cave. This strategy allows them to survive the winter on their stored
fat, which can be quickly depleted in only a few hours of activity.
The fungus has been observed to grow on and invades the skin and
underlying tissue, particularly the wings of affected bats, where it
causes swelling and scarring. Wing membranes represent about 85% of a
bat's total surface area and play a critical role in balancing complex
physiological processes, such as body temperature regulation, blood
pressure, water balance, and gas exchange--not to mention allowing bats
to fly and to capture insect prey. WNS may interfere with these
critical functions and cause skin irritation, disturbing hibernating
bats and causing them to expend more energy than their fat reserves can
For some small mammal species, a mass mortality event like that
caused by WNS would not significantly affect the long-term
sustainability of their populations. However, bats differ from most
other small mammals in that they have long lives and reproduce slowly--
a combination that precludes rapid population growth and recovery. Most
of the bat species currently affected by WNS live about 5-15 years and
have only one offspring per year. Thus, biologists are concerned that,
even if we are able to abate the situation, it will take many human
generations for populations of WNS affected bat species to recover.
Among the 25 species of bats in the United States that rely on
hibernation to survive winter, four species and subspecies are
federally listed as endangered through the FWS, and several other
species are identified by other federal and state agencies as in need
of conservation.. All four endangered species and subspecies of
hibernating bats in the U.S. rely on caves or mines for successful
overwintering and are at risk from WNS.
Although much of the scientific understanding of bat population
ecology and dynamics necessary to make a precise determination is
lacking, biologists estimate that between 500,000 and 1 million bats
have died so far as a result of WNS. The Department is concerned about
its potential impact on bat populations, especially those species
currently listed as federally endangered, because of the high mortality
associated with WNS and its rapid spread.
White-nose syndrome was found in West Virginia and Virginia caves
for the first time late last winter, indicating its potential spread
from Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states to Southeastern and
Midwestern states. These states support much larger caves and
populations of hibernating bats, including millions of individuals of
several species, including the federally endangered Virginia big-eared
bat, of which there are only about 20,000. Ultimately, it is possible
that other federally listed bat species may be impacted if the disease
spreads further south and west, including the gray bat and the Ozark
big-eared bat. Also, significant mortality of more common species may
threaten the stability and health of these populations.
The role of bats in larger ecosystems is not well understood, but
bat species comprise about one-fifth of all mammal species in the
world, making their loss potentially significant to the sustainability
of other animals and the plants that share their landscapes. One
million bats can consume up to 8,000 lbs of flying insects per night,
including some pests like mosquitoes and moths. As predators of these
insects, bats may play an important role in protecting agriculture crop
and forest health and in reducing risk of human disease transmitted by
In addition to impacts on biological resources, WNS will have
impacts on some local economies. The closure of caves reduces
opportunities for recreational caving and impacts many caving
organizations, clubs, and local grottos that rely on access to these
resources. Drastically reduced bat populations likely will also impact
the enjoyment of visitors who come to federal lands to see them. For
instance, caves and bats are the primary attractions at some of the
National Park Service (NPS) units. These include Mammoth Cave National
Park (Kentucky), Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico), and
Timpanogos Cave National Monument (Utah). Caves with bats are a
secondary attraction at numerous other units such as Cumberland Gap
National Historical Park (Kentucky) and Ozark National Scenic Riverways
(Missouri). WNS has been detected in one national park unit--Delaware
Water Gap National Recreation Area (Pennsylvania and New Jersey). As
caves and bat populations in these national park units and other
federal lands are affected, outdoor recreation guides, gateway
communities, and outfitters may experience loss of visitors and income.
Department of the Interior Response
The Department of the Interior (Department) is leading a
cooperative and coordinated response among its bureaus, including the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Park Service, and
the U.S. Geological Survey; as well as the U.S. Department of
Agriculture and other affected agencies; affected states; the academic
community; private nonprofit organizations; and other stakeholders.
Through the FWS, the Department has assembled a team of experts from
these stakeholders to address this disease. Today, more than 50 partner
agencies and organizations are working together to identify the
mechanisms by which WNS is transmitted and mortality in affected bats,
monitor its spread, and develop management and containment options for
federal and state wildlife managers.
Currently, the Department is planning on providing resource
managers with management recommendations, based on the best available
science, to control the spread and minimize the effects of WNS in 2010.
To this end, the Department is engaged in a structured decision making
process, in which bat experts from multiple agencies are weighing the
various management alternatives against much uncertainty. We expect to
have management recommendations in place by September of this year.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is coordinating the
Department's response to WNS, and is currently collecting and
distributing critical information to other federal agencies, states,
partners, and the public; administering several working groups focused
on specific elements of the problem; and working with stakeholders to
identify and carry out collaborative investigations, monitoring, and
management actions. The FWS serves as the primary resource for up-to-
date information and recommendations for all partners, such as
important decontamination protocols and a March 2009 cave access
advisory that requested voluntary moratorium on activities in caves in
affected states to minimize the potential spread of WNS.
The Department has and will continue to invest resources to address
to WNS, including coordination with states and other partners to
improve our understanding about this disease, to take appropriate
actions, and to monitor for its spread. As the potential for spread
increases, the need for and complexity of this coordination increases.
Through the FWS, the Department will continue to monitor federally
listed species and, because states have primary jurisdiction over bats
not federally listed under the Endangered Species Act, to support state
monitoring and management efforts through State Wildlife Grants and
U.S. Geological Survey
Investigation into the disease and the implicated fungus species
has been conducted at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)-National
Wildlife Health Center, in collaboration with multiple partners,
including the USGS-Fort Collins Science Center, the FWS, Symbiology
LLC, Cornell University, and conservation agencies from all WNS-
affected states. Much of this work was summarized in a paper published
in the journal Science. USGS has also lead efforts to publish two
additional studies that define criteria for diagnosing WNS and that
describe and name the fungus that causes the skin infection
characteristic of WNS. These papers will be released in June, 2009.
To close gaps in scientific understanding of affected bat
populations, this fungus, and its affect on bats, the Department has
funded research through USGS into several lines of investigation. Data
collected during a WNS infection trial are being analyzed to identify
mechanisms by which WNS is transmitted. Additionally, an environmental
survey is underway to determine the prevalence of the WNS fungus in the
eastern U.S. and to evaluate the potential role of the environment in
maintaining the WNS fungus. The USGS is preparing to conduct
epidemiological studies to determine the origin of the WNS fungus,
ecological studies to ascertain whether bats are surviving the disease,
and modeling studies to determine the potential for further WNS spread.
National Park Service
The National Park System contains 391 units comprising
approximately 84 million acres. Nearly one in four national park units
have caves, and one in three units contain mines that can provide
habitat for bats. System-wide, all 45 species of bats in North America
occur in national park units, including seven species that are
federally listed as threatened or endangered, and numerous others that
are listed through state laws as threatened or endangered.
NPS is fortunate to have both wildlife health professionals and
public health professionals working together to provide ``One Health''
recommendations that consider the health of humans, animals, and the
environment in addressing disease issues. This infrastructure, which is
being applied to the NPS response to WNS, has been useful and
successful in addressing a variety of disease threats in national park
The NPS has established a working group comprised of managers from
across the entire national park system under the leadership of one of
our Washington Office veterinarians. This group facilitates
coordination within NPS and with the Department and its partners. Such
national coordination is critical because the impacts of WNS are
already nationwide as evidenced by cave restrictions and closures from
Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee and North Carolina) to
Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park (California).
Limiting Potential for Human Transmission
The Department is working closely with the recreational caving and
cave research communities to develop decontamination protocols and cave
access recommendations to prevent potential spread of the fungus
through human activities. In March 2009, the FWS issued an advisory
recommending voluntary suspension of caving activities in the states
with affected bats, as well as in the adjoining states. In addition,
the FWS has developed guidelines for scientists working in hibernacula
to take precautions to avoid contributing to the spread. The NPS has
closed ``wild'' caves and mines in several units of the National Park
System, although large, commercial caves in national park units remain
open at this time. More closures will occur in response to any spread
of WNS. Several states have closed caves on lands under their
management, including Indiana and Kentucky, although WNS has not yet
been recorded in these states. The National Wildlife Refuge (NWR)
System under FWS management includes lands with significant bat
hibernacula, including those of the federally listed gray bat. Fern
Cave NWR, Suata Cave NWR, Key Cave NWR, and Logan Cave NWR have been
closed to public entry to protect wildlife from human disturbance,
Madame Chairwoman and Chairman Grijalva, the Department is
dedicated to continuing its coordination of research and response to
white-nose syndrome and its impact on bat populations. The rapid onset
and high mortality associated with this disease is unprecedented,
making WNS the greatest challenge to bat conservation we have ever
faced. To successfully combat this disease, we are employing an
approach that combines the unique strengths of each of our bureaus and
As globalization continues to increase the incidence of disease and
exotic species invasions, and climate change impacts our landscapes,
significantly altering habitats and introducing other stressors to
native fish and wildlife, we may experience similar population changes
to fish and wildlife populations in the U.S. The ultimate cause of WNS
has yet to be confirmed, but the wildlife conservation community's
response to WNS may serve as a model for how we respond to other
emerging diseases with wide-ranging ecological impacts in the future.
The Department appreciates the interest of the Committee and your
respective Subcommittees in WNS and our efforts to address it. We look
forward to working with you to effectively slow the spread of this
disease, and to mitigate its impacts on bat populations.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. I would
be happy to answer any questions that you or the committee members
Response to questions submitted for the record by Marvin Moriarty
Questions from Ranking Republican Member Henry E. Brown, Jr. (R-SC),
Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife
(1) What is the origin of this disease? In other words, how did it end
up in the cave in the Adirondack Mountains in 2006?
The origin of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is not currently known.
However, there is circumstantial evidence suggesting that the cause is
the fungus, Geomyces destructans. This fungus causes the skin infection
that is hallmark of WNS and has occasionally been observed to infect
cave-hibernating European bat species since the early 1980s. However,
the mortality associated with WNS in the U.S. has not been reported in
Europe, but there are significant differences between North American
and European bats. First, the ranges of bat species present in Europe
and North America do not overlap (it is possible that European and
North American bat species exhibit different susceptibilities to fungus
and WNS). Second, while U.S. cave-bat species hibernate in large
aggregations (>100,000 individuals for some species), European cave-bat
species tend to form much smaller hibernation groups. The large
aggregations of cave-hibernating bats in the U.S. may serve both to
promote the spread of WNS and to facilitate the detection of the
resulting large numbers of sick and dead bats. If WNS occurs in Europe,
detection may be more difficult as a result of the smaller numbers of
animals present in hibernation caves. The cave where G. destructans was
first observed in North America is visited by more than 200,000
tourists each year. Because no species of bats move between Europe and
North America, it is plausible that humans inadvertently brought G.
destructans into North American caves from another continent.
(2)(a) What is the test to determine whether a bat has the white-nose
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wildlife Health Center
currently has three tests to determine whether a bat has WNS. Tissues
from dead bats are placed in culture media that grow fungi, which are
then identified as G. destructans by various methods, including its
distinctive physical appearance. Also, a molecular biology technique,
polymerase chain reaction (PCR), is used to determine whether DNA from
the fungus G. destructans is present on or in animal tissues. This
technique is useful as fungi can be difficult to grow in the
laboratory--PCR can identify G. destructans without having to grow it.
Last, tissues are examined under a microscope to detect the presence of
fungi and associated skin damage. This process, however, is less
specific at present and research is planned to improve specific fungal
identification using additional specialized techniques.
(b) If the Service finds a sick or dying bat, what steps are being
taken to care for this animal?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is not taking steps to
care for sick bats. A few private wildlife rehabilitators have
experimentally treated WNS-affected bats and have reported the healing
of damaged wing tissue. However, most states do not permit the release
of these animals for fear of further spreading of the disease; there is
currently no method for determining whether a bat that has apparently
recovered from the WNS is actually free of the fungus.
(c) What has been the rate of recovery?
The rate of recovery is not known. In the more than 60 caves in
which bats have been found to be affected, over 90% were dead by the
end of the winter. In some caves, mortality has been 100%.
(3)(a) What are the current estimates on how many bats have died as a
result of the white-nose syndrome?
Current estimates indicate that over 1,000,000 bats of six
different species have died as a result of WNS over the past three
(b) Are they dying of this disease or is this a symptom of a
Bat mortality of the magnitude associated with WNS has never
previously been documented among any of the 1,100+ species of bats in
the world. All field and laboratory analyses completed to date indicate
that bats in the northeastern U.S. are dying as a result of WNS.
Although research is ongoing, there is a growing body of evidence
supporting a direct link between WNS mortality and infection by a
newly-discovered species of fungus, Geomyces destructans. As determined
by microscopy, culture, and PCR analyses, bats from all sites where
WNS-mortality has been observed have tested positive for G.
destructans. Furthermore, laboratory infection trials have demonstrated
that G. destructans is transmissible bat-to-bat, and laboratory and
field studies indicate that this fungus causes a severe skin lesion
resulting in significant damage to bat wing tissue. It is hypothesized
that irritation from the fungal skin infection may lead to aberrant
behaviors during hibernation and subsequent premature fat depletion and
death in some animals. Other animals die more acutely without depletion
of fat reserves.
(4)(a) Which bat species have been most adversely affected by this
The little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus) is the most common cave-
hibernating species in the Northeast region and presents the largest
gross number of observed dead bats. The closely related endangered
Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) has also been severely affected.
(b) Is there a real likelihood that species like Indiana bats and
Virginia big-eared bats may become extinct because of this
If WNS spreads to the largest Indiana bat hibernating colonies in
the nation, located in the Midwest, and mortality is consistent with
that observed in the Northeast, extinction of the species will become a
real possibility. To date, Virginia big-eared bats (Corynorhinus
townsendii virginianus) have not been diagnosed with WNS, although it
has been detected in other species at sites they occupy.
(5) Now that winter is over, what is the current state of the white-
The post-winter state of WNS is unclear. Bats observed in the
summer with scarred wings indicate the possibility that bats infected
with the fungus can survive at least one year of infection. Scientists
are uncertain about the fate of these bats during a second winter, but
it is clear that the ability to fly or catch prey is limited for at
least some of these scarred individuals. The condition of these bats,
therefore, may be less than optimal as they approach the winter, making
them more vulnerable to death during the cold months. This scenario may
explain the steady year-by-year decline in the hibernating bat
populations of affected caves. The multi-year prognosis for bats
observed with WNS, based on the rate of mortality of bats in affected
caves, is very poor. Scientists are also uncertain about whether
apparently healthy bats can transmit the fungus during the summer
months. If this is possible, the condition may spread to new caves as
bats from different hibernacula live closely together in summer
(6) What is the period of time from the start of the disease to when
bats are dying because of it?
The interval from initial infection with WNS to death is not
currently known, however bats may die from the infection during their
first hibernation season, a period of six months. Most WNS mortality
occurs during the last half of hibernation. This seems related to the
more rapid depletion of body fat reserves in WNS-affected bats than
those without infection. Bats with a milder initial infection could
survive the hibernation period.
(7) Have you closed caves on land managed by the Service including
your national wildlife refuge units? Do you have any refuges
where recreational caving is permitted?
The Service prohibits the recreational use of any cave on National
Wildlife Refuges until the Secretary determines that a general public
use is compatible with the conservation and protection of fish and
wildlife, including bats. There are currently no caves supporting bats
on Refuges that are open for use by the general public.
(8) What is the basis of your statement that: ``There is currently no
evidence to support a link between climate change and WNS''?
Since no research has been conducted to date to determine whether
there is a link between WNS and climate change, there is no scientific
evidence of such a link. Federal research efforts to date have been
focused on determining the nature of the syndrome, its cause, and
methods of control. No research conducted to date has revealed that
climate change is a factor in WNS.
(9)(a) Are there any similarities between the white-nose syndrome and
the colony collapse disorder in bees? (b) Have we ever
discovered the cause of CCD?
There is no scientifically demonstrated link between WNS and CCD. A
definitive cause for CCD has not been determined, and there are many
differences between the two diseases. Infection of bat skin by the
fungus G. destructans is a clinical hallmark of WNS. G. destructans has
not been found to be associated with CCD. Also, WNS affects multiple
species of wild bats native to North America. In contrast, CCD is a
malady of honey bees which were introduced to North America and which
are maintained in artificial hives by bee keepers. A better comparison
can be made between WNS and chytridiomycosis. Chytridiomycosis is a
fungal skin infection of numerous wild amphibian species (frogs, toads,
and salamanders) that causes high mortality and that has been
identified as a cause of global amphibian population declines.
Chytridiomycosis is caused by a fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis,
that is believed to have been inadvertently spread from Africa to other
continents through trade in African clawed frogs.
(10) What are the goals of the $1.3 million dollar two-year state
wildlife grant proposal that has recently been approved by
The goal statement for the proposal is as follows: ``This project
will support a region-wide coordinated response to White Nose Syndrome
(WNS), a rapidly-emerging threat to bats. Funding is urgently needed to
1) investigate the causative agent(s), transmission, and control; 2)
detect new occurrences; 3) detect and manage the threat to adjoining
regions, and; 4) implement response and control strategies.''
(11)(a) Prior to the first reported case of WNS in the winter of 2006,
did the Fish and Wildlife Service routinely conduct winter
surveys of caves? (b) Are the surveys you are now performing
limited to those caves located on federal land and are they
targeted to listed bat species?
Historically, the Service has not routinely monitored caves on
Federal or other lands, other than those caves harboring endangered
species. Currently, in its Northeast Region the Service is monitoring
caves on federal lands, as well as some caves on other lands, and these
surveys are not limited to listed bat species. Most monitoring of caves
on non-federal lands and for species not listed as threatened or
endangered is conducted by state fish and wildlife agencies.
(12) The state of Indiana, which has no reported cases of the white-
nose syndrome, has closed all of its caves on state property to
stop the spread of this disease. Would you recommend that every
state adopt this proactive step of closing their caves and
Based on evidence that indicates human activity in caves and mines
may be a factor in the spread of WNS, the Service issued an advisory on
March 26, 2009, recommending a voluntary moratorium on all caving
activity in states known to have hibernacula affected by WNS, and all
adjoining states, unless conducted as part of an agency-sanctioned
research or monitoring project. The State of Indiana does not yet fall
under this advisory, but because of its significant hibernating bat
populations, the state chose to close caves and mines on state-owned
properties as a precaution. In its advisory, the Service has also
recommended that cavers not use equipment or clothing that has ever
been used in WNS-affected areas, which applies to all states not
currently affected by WNS. The Service has made its recommendation
regarding the level of precaution that is prudent for states to help
limit the spread of WNS in its March 2009 advisory, and it is not
prepared to make further recommendations at this time. More details
about the management of WNS should be available in September of 2009.
(13) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has several national wildlife
refuge units including Logan Cave NWR, Ozark Cavefish NWR,
Ozark Plateau NWR and Pilot Knob NWR that provide critical
habitat for endangered bat species and they are closed to the
public. Is there any indication that the white-nose syndrome
has affected any of these bats?
WNS has not yet been observed in any of the caves mentioned in the
question, nor have they been designated as critical habitat under
Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act. Of listed species supported in
these caves, the fungus has not been observed in either the ESA-listed
gray bat (Myotis grisescens) or the Ozark big-eared bat (Corynorhinus
townsendii ingens). However, the pattern of spread for WNS suggests
that it will move into areas occupied by the gray bat and the Ozark
big-eared bat in the relatively near future. In the northeast, three
species of bats in the genus Myotis, including the ESA-listed Indiana
bat, have been severely affected by WNS. While both the gray bat and
the Ozark big-eared bat are probably vulnerable to WNS, the gray bat is
also in the genus Myotis, and therefore may be especially vulnerable.
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you very much, Mr. Moriarty, for you
And before we recognize our second guest on the first
panel, I would like introduce the gentlelady from
Massachusetts, Ms. Tsongas, and also the gentlelady from New
Hampshire, Carol Shea-Porter.
We will now hear from Mr. Holtrop. It is a pleasure to
welcome you, sir, before the Subcommittee, and you are now
recognized to testify for five minutes.
STATEMENT OF JOEL HOLTROP, DEPUTY CHIEF, NATIONAL FOREST
SYSTEM, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE
Mr. Holtrop. Thank you very much, Chairwoman Bordallo,
Chairman Grijalva and Members of the Subcommittees. It is my
honor and pleasure to be able to talk with you today about the
You have my full written testimony for the record and so I
want to spend these just few moments just pointing out to you
why this is an important issue for the Department of
Agriculture, for the U.S. Forest Service, and for me personally
in my role of responsibility for the National Forest System
throughout this country.
A diminished population of bats diminishes the integrity of
forest and grassland ecosystems, and that is an important
statement to make right there. Bats are an important integral
part of healthy ecosystems and they are ecologically
significant, and it is very important for us to be addressing
this issue, and I very much appreciate the Subcommittees'
recognition of that by holding this hearing and your commitment
to continuing to work with us.
I think Mr. Moriarty did a great job of explaining the
significance of this as well as your opening statements did as
Bats are important for us because they are predators of
some of the insects that cause forest health problems. They are
important for us ecologically also because they are predators
on insects that are an annoyance and irritants to human
populations. They are important to us because they are an
important predator on agricultural pests as well. Also, some of
the bats that have been affected are threatened or endangered
species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act. As a
Federal land manager, we have the responsibility not only of
conserving those bat species, but working toward their
restoration and recovery. So, this is an extremely important
issue to us.
I want to say that I am proud of the response of the Forest
Service, that the Administration has made to date on this, and
recognize that there is a great deal more work to do. This is a
fast-moving issue. We have been talking about this being
discovered three years ago. We found out how widespread this
has become just in the past several months, and already we have
closed all of the caves on the National Forest System in the
eastern United States, over 2,000 caves and abandoned mines
that are bat habitat. So, we have acted quickly in the face of
a significant threat.
I am also proud of the fact that we have done so in
cooperation with the other Federal agencies, our state
partners, and nonprofit organizations such as Bat Conservation
International, the National Speleological Society and other
organizations that have worked capably with us and I very much
appreciate that effort as well.
And I am proud of the fact that we have a research and
development part of our organization that has been doing
scientific work on what are the habitat needs of bats so that
we are managing our forests in a way that is going to be
providing for healthy bat populations when they are not
hibernating, when they are out in the forest, and in their
maternity mode and in their foraging mode. And so those are all
important aspects of forest management for us and I am proud of
the approach we have taken on that.
We stand ready to continue to work with the Subcommittees,
with our Federal partners, state partners and non-governmental
organizations to continue to find out more information about
this pathology: to find out what are the steps that we need to
take to continue to slow the spread of the disease; to find out
what actions we can take to actually start addressing the
disease directly; and how we can manage our habitats in an
effective manner so that we are providing for the healthiest
bat populations possible so that they are able, perhaps, to be
more effective in withstanding the disease.
I look forward to answering any questions you might have.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Holtrop follows:]
Statement of Joel Holtrop, Deputy Chief, National Forest System,
Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Madame Chairman and Mr. Chairman, Ranking Members Bishop and Brown
and members of the Subcommittees, thank you for the opportunity to
testify before you today on bat white-nose syndrome. The subject of
white-nose syndrome is important to forest managers, wildlife managers,
agricultural producers and the public-at-large. This hearing is timely
because white-nose syndrome is an emerging disease of cave dwelling
species of bats that is both perplexing and potentially devastating.
The interest of Congress and in particular the joint Subcommittees on
National Parks, Forests and Public Lands and the Insular Affairs,
Oceans and Wildlife is welcomed and commendable.
The Forest Service is very concerned about white-nose syndrome and
the future of bats in the United States and North America. White-nose
syndrome (WNS) is a name given to a fungal agent recently identified in
the genus Geomyces associated with mass mortality of several bat
species at hibernation sites in the New England, Mid-Atlantic and
northern Appalachian States. Once introduced into a cave or abandoned
and/or inactive mine, WNS has the potential to kill more than 90
percent (Blehert, et al 2009 Science Vol. 323 pg. 227) of the
hibernating bats. WNS has killed an estimated 500,000 to 1 million bats
during the last three years. Since 2007, when WNS was first documented
in New York, at least six bat species, including the Endangered Indiana
bat have been affected. The Forest Service can contribute towards the
larger effort to better understand WNS, and can play a role in
attempting to slow the spread of WNS to hibernation sites in caves and
abandoned and /or inactive mines. The mission of the Forest Service is
``to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the Nation's
forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future
generations''. This mission includes sustaining the health, diversity
and productivity of the many species that use the Nation's forests and
grasslands as habitat, including bats.
Declining bat populations diminish the integrity of our forest and
grassland ecosystems. The continued loss of bats in forested ecosystems
could have significant ecological and economic impacts. Because bats
are primary predators of night-flying insects, a significant decline in
bat populations could contribute to larger insect pest populations, a
possible decrease of agricultural crop production, and a potential
decline in forested ecosystem resiliency, including forest health.
Increases in insect pest populations could lead to an increase in the
perception of the need for pesticides, which would have both
environmental and economic consequences.
Coordination and cooperation among all parties involved in
addressing WNS is critical. The Forest Service is committed to full
partnership and cooperation with the Department of Interior (U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey),
State and Tribal wildlife management agencies, universities, industrial
and non-industrial private forestland owners and non-governmental
organizations such as Bat Conservation International to identify the
species of the genus Geomyces afflicting bats and arrest its spread
throughout bat species. We will continue to assist in the cooperative
effort for the monitoring, epidemiology and isolation procedures
required to prevent the spread of WNS to unaffected areas and regions
of the United States.
THE ROLE OF THE NATIONAL FOREST SYSTEM
The Eastern and Southern Regions of the National Forest System have
adopted a very aggressive response to the threat posed to bats by WNS.
This includes specific budget direction to address bat species
conservation relative to WNS in the Forest Service fiscal year (FY) 09
budget advice. There are approximately 24 million acres of National
Forest System lands in the Eastern and Southern Regions of the Forest
Service with approximately 2000 caves and abandoned and/or inactive
mines that serve as bat hibernation sites. It is in these hibernacula
where WNS mortality is most evident among hibernating bats. White-nose
syndrome has not yet been documented in populations of migratory bat
species that hibernate in trees or forest leaf litter. There are
approximately 2,000 caves and abandoned and/or inactive mines in
Eastern and Southern Region national forests. Several species of bats
listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the
Endangered Species Act use these sites including the Indiana bat, gray
bat, Virginia big-eared bat, and Ozark big-eared bat. Other bat species
classified as Sensitive, a designation established by the Forest
Service, include Rafinesque's big-eared bat, southeastern bat, eastern
small-footed bat, and tri-colored bat, formerly known as the eastern
For the Eastern Region of the Forest Service, WNS is confirmed in
one abandoned and/or inactive mine within the Green Mountain National
Forest (Vermont) and confirmed in a cave in West Virginia's Monongahela
National Forest. At present, there are no caves or abandoned and/or
inactive mines in the Southern Region National Forests confirmed as
infected with WNS. In Virginia, two caves on private lands adjacent to
the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests are infected. Of
significant concern, is the short six-mile proximity between the
contaminated cave on the Monongahela National Forest and the privately
owned Hellhole Cave, which is designated critical habitat for both the
Indiana bat and the Virginia big-eared bat--both Endangered Species.
Hellhole Cave is habitat for approximately 45% of the known population
of Virginia big-eared bats and more than 100,000 little brown bats, the
species hit hardest by WNS. Species of bats killed by WNS include
little brown, big brown, northern long-eared, eastern small-footed and
tri-colored bats, as well as the Endangered Indiana bat. In New York
State, approximately 25,000 Indiana bats or about 50% (Blehert, et al
2009 Science Vol. 323 pg. 227) of the known New York population has
died since 2006. The Finger Lakes National Forest (NY) does not have
any caves or abandoned and/or inactive mines within its land base.
Forest Service Cave and Mine Closures
It is critical we stop or slow the spread of WNS before it reaches
the larger bat hibernacula of the Midwest and Southeast. In an attempt
to slow the spread of White-nose syndrome, the Regional Foresters for
the Eastern and Southern Regions closed all caves to the public and
abandoned and/or inactive mines, unless posted as open with official
Forest Service signs. Exceptions to the closure order are for research
and monitoring, law enforcement and search and rescue operations. The
closure does not include El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico
because it is unlikely the fungus thought to cause white-nose syndrome
would survive in the tropics. The fungus grows in cold conditions
(Blehert, et al 2009 Science Vol. 323 pg. 227).
There is evidence to suggest humans can spread WNS, from cave to
cave on their gear and equipment (Blehert, et al 2009 Science Vol. 323
pg. 229). This includes cavers as well as resource managers.
Researchers and managers working on WNS are permitted to enter caves or
abandoned and/or inactive mines if decontamination protocols are
implemented. The protocols include the use of specific clothing and
equipment for each individual cave and abandoned and/or inactive mine.
Thus limiting a vector suspected of transmitting WNS. The closure
orders are crafted to reduce concerns that they would deny access for
Tribal rights and ceremonies by allowing requests for Tribal ceremonies
to be authorized by permit on a case-by-case basis. Our Tribal partners
are supportive of our efforts to slow the spread of WNS.
Although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested a limited
moratorium on caving in WNS confirmed states and adjacent states
(available at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/wnscaveadvisory.html), the
Eastern and Southern Regions of the Forest Service expanded their
closure orders region-wide. The Forest Service acted because we
observed WNS jump from New York to southwest Virginia in one winter, a
far greater distance than bats or small mammals could travel in such a
short timeframe. There are critical bat hibernacula in the Midwest and
Southeast that we intend to protect from contamination. For the
Southern Region, the closure order may help slow the spread to
significant gray bat, Indiana bat and Ozark big-eared bat caves in
Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia Kentucky, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
Approximately 1,900 Ozark big-eared bats remain in the world and they
all occur in Oklahoma and Arkansas. In the Eastern Region, Michigan and
Wisconsin have large populations of bats residing in abandoned and/or
inactive mines, while large populations of Indiana bats occur in
Illinois and Indiana, all of which are currently free of WNS. If we
fail to keep WNS contained, there could be a rapid and precipitous
population decline for many bat species. Therefore, it is critical that
we keep their hibernacula isolated from the Geomyces that is linked to
WNS. There is no known cure for WNS, so we must rely upon the basic
principles of epidemiology, which includes trying to limit disease
spread between geographic regions and using decontamination procedures
when visiting hibernacula.
Management of National Forests
Bats need healthy forests and healthy forests need bats. Other than
implementing the cave and abandoned and/or inactive mine closure order,
the best thing we can do to conserve bats is manage for healthy and
resilient forests. While the national forests are approximately six
percent (6%) of the forested lands in the Eastern and Southern U.S.,
they play a critical role in conservation of all endemic species. We
are using research findings to develop management strategies to benefit
bats. Our primary management tools include thinning forested stands,
creating canopy gaps, managing mid-story and under-story vegetation,
conserving potential roost structures such as snags, and providing
upland water sources. The objective is to create suitable roosting and
foraging habitat across large landscapes. The Eastern and Southern
Region national forests are ideally suited to contribute to large
forested landscape ecosystems. There is a significant but discontinuous
corridor of national forests from northern Georgia to New Hampshire. If
we can retain healthy bat populations on national forests, the corridor
could serve as a conduit to repopulate bat populations in areas
decimated by WNS. This assumes our ability to arrest the spread of WNS;
that the bats develop some resistance to it; or a method is found to
address the fungus that causes the hallmark WNS skin infection.
There may be potential to increase our management efforts to
develop suitable habitat at an accelerated rate. Forest Service
biologists are cooperating with State and Federal partners to inventory
and monitor bat populations on National Forest System lands to
establish baseline data. This will allow us to assess the impact of WNS
on bat populations. These efforts are in conjunction with other
Federal, State, and private partners in bat conservation.
FOREST SERVICE RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT (R&D) ROLE IN BAT HABITAT
Because bats are difficult to study and their role in forested
ecosystems was not clearly, understood, little research was conducted
by Forest Service scientists on bats prior to the late 1990's. However,
with advances in technology such as miniature radio-transmitters and
field-hardy, easy-to-use bat detectors, biologists soon realized that
forested ecosystems are critical for bat survival and forest management
activities could have consequences for the habitat and bat populations.
Coupled with growing concerns over the viability of bat populations and
advancing knowledge of the role of bats in maintaining healthy
ecosystems, the Forest Service Research Stations developed bat research
programs throughout the United States.
Five Forest Service Research scientists are currently conducting
research on the role of bats in forested ecosystems in the U.S. Two
scientists are in the Northern Research Station (Massachusetts and
Missouri), two are in the Southern Research Station (South Carolina and
Arkansas), and one is in the Pacific Southwest Research Station
(California). At the Forest Products Lab in Madison, Wisconsin, two
research mycologists have recently offered their expertise to support
the effort to understand the Geomyces fungus and its relationship to
Research on bats by Forest Service scientists falls into three main
basic habitat requirements of bats,
the effects of forest management on bats, and
development and testing of inventory and monitoring
Although many bats roost in caves and abandoned and/or inactive
mines during winter hibernation, most bats roost in trees during the
summer months. Summer is a critical period for bats because this is
when the young are born and nurtured. Thus, much of the research
conducted by Forest Service scientists has focused on determining
optimal roosting requirements of bats during the maternity season. In
general, our research has found that bats prefer large trees or snags,
often in relatively open areas. However, there is still considerable
unexplained variation within and among species that needs further
Since 1990, Forest Service research scientists and their
cooperators have produced over 85 papers on bats that have been
published in refereed journals, books, or Forest Service Research
Papers, General Technical Reports or Research Notes. Scientists are
also engaged in a variety of other lines of research such as bat
population genetics, the use of stable isotopes to study migration
patterns, and the consequences of wind turbine development and siting
on bat populations. Information from all lines of research is valuable
for managing the possible recovery of bats from WNS.
Maintenance of optimal foraging habitat and insect prey is also
critical for the survival and viability of bat populations. Much Forest
Service research has focused on the impacts of forest management;
particularly the consequences of harvest methods and fuels reduction
treatments such as thinning and prescribed fire on bat foraging habitat
and use. The results of these studies have found that many forest
management practices, particularly thinning, prescribed fire, and
creation of small canopy gaps or openings, do not reduce habitat
attributes for bats and may be very beneficial.
National forests and grasslands are required to inventory and
monitor all Threatened, Endangered, and Sensitive species on their
lands, including bats. Bats are an extremely difficult group of animals
to survey and monitor, however, several Forest Service scientists have
been working to develop robust methods to obtain reliable estimates of
changes in bat species composition and relative abundance over time.
Information gained from Forest Service R&D studies on habitat
requirements, bat response to forest management, and the consequences
of human development on bat habitat and populations will be critical to
understanding the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of WNS and
other stressors on bat populations. The science surrounding bats would
contribute to the management strategies for the National Forest System
and other public and private lands in the future. These studies will
provide managers and the public with the information needed to provide
optimal habitat to sustain current populations and foster the recovery
of bat species populations rebounding from WNS. Further, Forest Service
studies of migration patterns and population genetics of Indiana bats
and other species are critical for predicting the spread of WNS and its
consequences at the population level. The robust inventory and
monitoring methods developed by Forest Service scientists will be
critical for documenting the spread of WNS and its effects on bat
populations on National Forest System lands and other lands at a
regional or multi-regional scale.
THE ROLE OF STATE AND PRIVATE FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION EDUCATION
Another approach for the management of healthy and resilient
forests is to implement efforts with State Foresters through State and
Private Forestry. The Forest Stewardship Program provides financial and
technical assistance to State Forestry organizations for private
forestland management advice, consultation, and plans. Targeting
private forest management efforts to implement prescriptions that would
enhance or develop attributes for bat foraging, roosting or maternity
habitat in privately owned forests in and near areas affected by WNS
could help to ensure populations of bats capable of withstanding WNS
We know the public is a critical partner in the effort to help save
the bats. The Forest Service is actively involved in educating people
regarding WNS, bat species conservation and ensuring the public
understands the ecological and economic importance of bats. Children
find bats fascinating and are a key part of our education programs. We
are informing people why Eastern and Southern National Forest System
caves and abandoned and/or inactive mines are closed to the public
until more is learned about the pathology of WNS.
The Forest Service is in the process of responding to the serious
threat to bat populations posed by WNS. The Forest Service Deputy Areas
for National Forest Systems, Research and Development and State and
Private Forestry are contributing to this vital cause. This agency-wide
effort includes targeted closures of cave and abandoned and/or inactive
mine features on approximately 24 million acres of National Forest
System lands, scientific knowledge and applied research; and broad,
private land forest stewardship to ensure populations of bats for
present and future generations. To further the conservation management
of the vast and diverse habitat and fauna, the Forest Service is
committed to cooperation and partnerships with Federal, State, Tribal
and nongovernmental organizations interested in the conservation and
preservation of bats. Madame Chairman and Mr. Chairman, this concludes
my testimony. I am pleased to answer any questions that you or the
Members of the Subcommittees may have.
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you, Mr. Holtrop, for your insights on
the management of the White-Nose Syndrome, and we will now
begin questioning the first panel. I will begin with myself. I
have a few questions for Mr. Moriarty.
Number one, do changes need to be made to the state
wildlife grants program to allow a more rapid response to
wildlife emergencies such as this syndrome?
Mr. Moriarty. Madam Chairwoman, thank you for the question.
It is a question I have been discussing with the Association of
Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Mr. Gary Taylor is here. It is a
complex issue. I think the simple answer is I would like to
have the association take a look at the process whereby they do
allocate the monies from the state wildlife grant program, and
work with the Fish and Wildlife Service over potential changes
that might be necessary in that process.
I do know that the process is a very formal process. It
requires matches and things like that which may be troublesome
to some states, and so I think it is a good question to raise
to the association, and have them deal with that, and work with
the Service so that we could look at different options.
Ms. Bordallo. In addition to that, do you receive any money
at all for this particular problem?
Mr. Moriarty. We mostly have just redirected what we have
in order to get into this thing, but we did have some funds
like prevention of extinction funds which we were able to tap
into for this, and also several state wildlife grants went to
helping work with the bat syndrome.
Ms. Bordallo. I see.
Mr. Moriarty. So, we did have some funds that were
available to go right into this, but mostly what we had to do
is redirect our activities.
Ms. Bordallo. What other authorities and resources does the
Fish and Wildlife Service need to rescue the bat species now
teetering on the edge of extinction?
Mr. Moriarty. Right now we have the Endangered Species Act
which we think is sufficient to allow our biologists to go out
and work on this issue. The states also have a tremendous
amount of responsibility since most of the caves exist on state
and private property, and we think at this time where the
authority is given to the Fish and Wildlife Service and the
states through our various acts that we have the ability to do
the job. I think if it does arrive or does happen that we need
some additional authorities, we would certainly be willing to
come forward and speak with you about that.
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you. And have there been any
assessments on the cumulative impacts of wind energy projects
and the White-Nose Syndrome on bats?
Mr. Moriarty. Madam Chairwoman, there have not been any
assessments done together in that regard. We are aware that--
you know, we do have many projects out there which may impact
Indiana bats, which is an endangered Federal bat, Federally
endangered bat, and that decisions have been made on that bat
prior to the White-Nose Syndrome action coming along. At this
point in time we are more directed at finding out the causes of
the problem, and getting management actions in place to deal
with that, and we will be looking as projects come along at the
potential impacts to these projects to Federally listed species
as we do that.
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you. I have more questions later, but I
would like to give the opportunity now to the Ranking Member,
the gentleman from Louisiana, Mr. Cassidy.
Mr. Cassidy. Thank you.
This grows in cooler temperatures. I read in the testimony
that, for example, therefore it is not felt to be a risk in
Puerto Rico because it is a warm place. So, is there a southern
limit to where you could project this to spread?
Mr. Moriarty. Sir, we do not know what that southern limit
is. We are hoping there is a southern limit.
Mr. Cassidy. Presumably you know the temperatures of caves,
so how far--if it is 67 degrees Fahrenheit below, how far
south, if you will, will you still achieve the optimal
temperature for growth?
Mr. Moriarty. OK, I see what you are asking.
I would like to ask, if I could, Dr. David Blehert, who is
with our Wildlife Health Disease Lab in Madison, Wisconsin, who
does have experience with that, and if he could come forward, I
would have him answer that question.
Ms. Bordallo. I have no objection.
Dr. Blehert. Thank you. So, what we have seen with the
growth range of the fungus would actually be consistent--that
it could propagate in caves as far south as northern Florida,
and into the State of Georgia.
Mr. Cassidy. Now you say that but in the testimony, it may
not be one of your, I forget, I have been skimming, that
optimally it would be what, 54 degrees Fahrenheit, so do those
caves get that cool?
Dr. Blehert. You know, the range I am used to thinking is
in Centigrade which goes up to--the fungus will grow up to
about 15-16 degrees Centigrade.
Mr. Cassidy. So, 32 plus 32, 64. Now it will grow up to but
that is not optimal, correct?
Dr. Blehert. Well, it is, unfortunately, more complicated
than that. What we have seen is that it can actually grow
faster at some of those temperatures, so we are in the process
of developing experimentation to predict what those effects
might be on bats at these warmer temperatures.
Mr. Cassidy. Got you. Can I then ask you another question
because I have limited time? Now, I presume that you have gone
to caves where the bats are not infected to see if this is part
of the normal flora. I mean, frankly, this strikes me as an
immunologic disease and not something which is being spread. It
seems like this is an opportunistic infection, if you will.
Dr. Blehert. Yes, but--I am sorry for cutting you off. What
we have seen to date is that the fungus is new to science,
which is suggestive that it perhaps has been introduced into
our environment. As we have moved through our research,
established contacts worldwide, we have found evidence that
this fungus may have existed in Europe. There are references to
a similar fungus in Europe dating back to the early 1980s,
suggesting that there could have been an introduction into the
We do have a study underway right now where we are looking
for the fungus in the environment.
Mr. Cassidy. Does it kill bats in Europe or is it just
present in Europe.
Dr. Blehert. The bat mortality that we have seen in the
U.S. have not been observed in Europe, but there are some
significant differences in the dynamics of their population.
Mr. Cassidy. So, I guess my question is, is this a
commensal organism which has just been manifested because of
some underlying defect or is it the primary cause? Do you
follow what I am saying?
Dr. Blehert. Yes. I suspect that it is not just a secondary
manifestation, and we do have research underway looking for
this fungus in cave environments from the Mississippi River
eastward, and that research should be completed by the end of
Mr. Cassidy. So, to put a point on that, as of right now,
you don't know the prevalence in the unaffected caves?
Dr. Blehert. That is correct.
Mr. Cassidy. It may be there, but we don't know that.
Dr. Blehert. Right, and we should have that answer in the
next couple of months.
Mr. Cassidy. OK, great. Then again this may be for someone
later, but I assume you have done autopsies on these bats.
Dr. Blehert. Yes.
Mr. Cassidy. And?
Dr. Blehert. So, in the course of our disease
investigation, we have seen no pathological lesions suggestive
of anything going on other than infection by this fungus.
Mr. Cassidy. What about the immunologic system?
Dr. Blehert. So, that is an interesting point. Bats are
very different than typical mammals. Typical mammals, as you
are pointing out, often are only affected by fungi when they
are otherwise immunocompromised. Bats, when they hibernate, are
naturally immunocompromised, and they are also, in effect, in a
cold-blooded state, and so if you look--fungi are rarely
primary infectious agents of warm-blooded animals, but they are
very commonly primary infectious agents of cold-blooded
animals, be it insects, trees, amphibians where there is a
similar fungal disease currently impacting amphibian
Mr. Cassidy. So, I guess my question is--well, let me back
up. Something else that intrigues me. In humans, antibiotics
will predispose to fungal infection, and so is there any
evidence that there are antibiotics in the blood stream of
Dr. Blehert. Contaminants analyses have been done and we
have seen no evidence that there is any cause for concern in
Mr. Cassidy. And then last, T-cell analysis? I mean, I
presume there has been a T-cell analysis?
Dr. Blehert. There are currently immunological studies
ongoing, and I believe that there will be people on the second
panel that can more directly address that.
Mr. Cassidy. OK. Thank you very much.
Ms. Bordallo. I thank the Ranking Member, and before I
recognize the Co-Chair of this hearing, I would like to say
that I represent the Territory of Guam in the Pacific. We have
a lot of bats in the Pacific area, and we have fruit bats which
are, I guess, a different species, but then again I guess we
don't have to worry about this fungus growth since it is only
in cold weather and we have warm weather, so maybe we ought to
heat the caves.
Ms. Bordallo. Just a suggestion.
And now I would like to recognize my Co-Chairman here, Mr.
Grijalva, the gentleman from Arizona.
Mr. Grijalva. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Moriarty, with regard to human diseases, we have alert
systems that indicate to the public and to response agencies
what the seriousness of that outbreak is. Has Fish and Wildlife
considered such a system to help coordinate the responses from
both local, state, and Federal agencies? And do you, in your
estimation, see any benefit to a national system like this,
responding to these outbreaks?
Mr. Moriarty. Yes, Mr. Chairman. In the past we have had
other wildlife disease outbreaks. I think you may remember the
chronic-wasting disease outbreak several years ago, and it was
that outbreak that actually got the community involved. The
states and Federal agencies, and the Center for Disease Control
and others, got together at that point in time and developed a
plan to move forward--a framework as it were--to bring in all
of the interested parties and stakeholders to get the
information out, get in place the kinds of surveillances that
were necessary--at a place where everybody could go to see
them, and grab them right away.
Mr. Grijalva. Is that a formalized system or did that
system come into place as a consequence of an outbreak?
Mr. Moriarty. That hasn't been formalized as that, but what
I see happening with this outbreak we are going to be using
that same kind of framework to attach all the surveillances and
the types of information that the states and our partners,
stakeholders and others, need to be able to deal with the issue
because it is a very well developed framework. I would see
that--after we use this framework--as I said in my comments, I
think we will be looking at that to become kind of a standard
way that we respond to wildlife disease outbreaks because I
think we can expect to see more come in the future, and so this
is a second good learning effort for us, and I do believe that
Mr. Grijalva. Moving toward a more formalized system.
Mr. Moriarty. More formalized type of a response, that we
have a good framework for.
Mr. Grijalva. OK, thank you.
Mr. Holtrop, welcome again. How effective have the cave
closures been? What has been the public response in terms of
Mr. Holtrop. As you might expect, there has been a mixed
response, but largely, and I think a lot of this is to the
credit of organizations like the National Speleological
Society, the response has been one of understanding that this
is a significant threat that requires some aggressive action to
be taken. So, there have been certainly some indications of
some people in local areas that are wondering if it is maybe
too much of an action to close all the caves over the breadth
of the area that we have, but by and large it has been fairly
Mr. Grijalva. Let me follow up on that because one of the
public concerns is the inconsistency of a response to the
outbreak, and the example being that--and appropriately so, I
believe the Forest Service did the closure of the caves, but
adjacent to that is state land which has not proceeded to close
their caves. So, in terms of consistency what should the public
expect when you have that situation?
Mr. Holtrop. I think the public has the right to expect
that their government agencies are coordinating as much as
feasible and as much as possible, and I would certainly expect
that there is additional coordination and cooperation that
could continue to improve that collaboration between how
different agencies are dealing with this issue.
I think one of the things to recognize again, it was in
March of this year that we realized how widely spread this
disease was and what we have chosen to do is in our two eastern
regions to close all of the caves and abandoned mines that are
bat habitat unless posted ``open''. And so we maintain the
opportunity to look on a case-by-case basis if there are
Mr. Grijalva. OK.
Mr. Holtrop [continuing]. To post a cave open. But I think
the public has a right to expect that we continue to work with
our partner agencies to look for ways to be as consistent as
possible. There are going to be differences in mission, there
are going to be differences in perspectives, we won't always be
identical on that, of course, but we should continue to work
Mr. Grijalva. Let me, if I may, ask the question I asked
previously, do you feel that a national alert response system
for the outbreaks of disease would help the Forest Service
coordinate the response that you just talked about between
local, state, and Federal agencies? How do you feel about that?
Mr. Holtrop. And I think you are referring to the statement
that you made in your opening comments that this is maybe a
pathology that we are going to be dealing with other issues
such as this with climate change and some of those aspects that
are associated with that.
Mr. Grijalva. More specifically, a formalized response
system as I asked the gentleman. How do you see that helping
with the coordination issue that I just asked about in the
Mr. Holtrop. Information is always valuable to help with
coordination, and if everybody is receiving the same best
information, that certainly is going to facilitate good
Mr. Grijalva. OK. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. Bordallo. I thank the gentleman from Arizona, and now I
would like to recognize the gentlelady from California, Mrs.
Mrs. Napolitano. Thank you, Madam Chair.
The testimony is of great interest to me, and dove-tailing
into Congressman Grijalva's statement about the formation of a
strategy or a national strategy, I would also like to ensure
that we include in that, Mr. Grijalva, the farming cooperatives
because I think they have a vested interest in ensuring that
the bats continue to thrive for their own benefit. They need to
be part of the solution.
With that, I go back to the funding that was mentioned. How
much is the amount that you have to do the R&D and the research
on that? You didn't quite make a statement. You said you have
adequate. What is adequate? I find sometimes the agencies are
timorous in asking and telling us because this has such great
implications for the national economy. We need to think big and
be able to ensure that whatever we do, that we put enough money
and support for every single agency to work cooperatively to
get this done.
Mr. Moriarty. Thank you, Madam Congresswoman. I really
appreciate your comments there.
It was a big learning process for us in 2006, and we said,
oh-oh, we have this. What do we about it?
Mrs. Napolitano. That was three years ago.
Mr. Moriarty. That was three years ago, and we very
quickly, without reservation, redirected funds into this. I
think that was--
Mrs. Napolitano. How much funds?
Mr. Moriarty. At that point--
Mrs. Napolitano. Roughly.
Mr. Moriarty. I have some numbers here I can give you.
Since 2006 until now, the Department of the Interior has put
about $5 million into the effort, dealing with the research,
developing the causes and management options.
Mrs. Napolitano. To address an issue that could have
Mr. Moriarty. Exactly.
Mrs. Napolitano [continuing]. I think that is a drop in the
Mr. Moriarty. It is. We did put together a coordinating
mechanism right away.
Mrs. Napolitano. OK.
Mr. Moriarty. Which was really the states and us. The
partners came together very quickly; got that coordinating
mechanism going. As the states and the Federal government
started putting their redirects into this, we did find some
funds that were available to us.
Mrs. Napolitano. I know, but that means it takes time to be
Mr. Moriarty. Takes time.
Mrs. Napolitano [continuing]. Search out those funds, and I
think it is incumbent on the Subcommittee to realize that you
need to have enough funding to be able to address it head on,
and put a priority on it because of the economy.
And because of climate change, there are many implications,
at least for us in the West, whether or not that is going to
spread out to our area. Because of the nature of our economy in
California specifically, and some of the western states for
that matter, how is that being found, what is being done to
alert those areas, check the caves out for the temperature to
ensure that it is not harboring the ability of spread of this
disease? Those are questions that have great implications for
our economy in the west.
Mr. Moriarty. Yes, I understand that. Right now many of the
questions that we have relative to transmission and the like
are still being answered. We have the pathology being dealt
with. The lab in Wisconsin is working on all of those questions
for us right now. When we have those questions, we will know
what triggers the spread, and if we can then portray that out
to other parts, like in the Midwest or Southwest where there
might be situations where that would occur, we would certainly
Mrs. Napolitano. OK, I understand that, and I am pressed
for time. But as you know some of these, are you sending them
out to the states so that they can begin looking and doing
their own R&D?
Mr. Moriarty. Yes, we do that. The hallmark of this
community is the states are in it, so right now it is the
Northeastern states, and several of the Southeastern states,
and some of the Midwestern states.
Mrs. Napolitano. Are you looking at growing some of these
endangered species in nurseries so there is no extinction?
Mr. Moriarty. We are currently looking at the possibility
of doing that for one of the bat species, the Indiana bat, and
it may be necessary in other bat species.
Mrs. Napolitano. I suggest that that be part of your budget
request, to be able to have something to address that
particular segment of what is going to be needed. And as a
matter of curiosity, the caves are closed, if the mines are
closed, where do the bats go?
Mr. Moriarty. Actually, the bats are free to go in and out
of the caves. The caves are closed usually by bars.
Mrs. Napolitano. OK.
Mr. Moriarty. They are heavily barred.
Mrs. Napolitano. So, they still can get in?
Mr. Moriarty. Yes, the bats can still get in.
Mrs. Napolitano. Is there a way of spraying them to be able
to ensure that there is no longer spread of healthy bats that
might come in, that migrate?
Mr. Moriarty. The concern around the--we thought about
that, but there is a concern that the caves are highly complex
ecosystems in and of themselves with lots of critters in them
already that could be very badly damaged by that kind of an
activity, so we would have to balance that with a threat to the
Mrs. Napolitano. Some kind of spraying as they go in or out
that will trigger anything in some--
Mr. Moriarty. I don't think we have considered that, but
that certainly is a good idea for us to put on the table.
Mrs. Napolitano. That would only affect the bats flying in
Mr. Moriarty. Flying in and out, yes. Sort of a misting
Mrs. Napolitano. Correct. Yes, something new. And then the
last question and then I will quit, Madam Chair, is, is there
any danger of that disease being passed on to another mammal,
to another animal outside?
Mr. Moriarty. Right now what we know that it does fit the
model for the bat because the bats own internal temperature
drops down into the area where the disease can take hold, so it
is a requirement that if you are a mammal, you have to have
temperature down at that level, and you have to live in a cave,
and be at that temperature for you to get it. So, our estimate
is right now it is not likely, but we are watching that. We are
looking at that as well because we haven't done all the studies
to really assure ourselves of that.
Mrs. Napolitano. May I also ask if there is any way of
being able to find out what impact this has on the plague of
the bark beetle that is affecting our pine forests? Because I
know the bats would eat some of the pine beetle, and if there
are no bats to eat it, and then we have a climate change,
then--I mean, this is all part and parcel of protecting our
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Ms. Bordallo. I thank the gentlelady from California. Now I
would like to recognize the gentlelady from Massachusetts, Mrs.
Ms. Tsongas. Good morning and thank you both.
I have a couple of questions. One was that in the testimony
you suggested that this White-Nose Syndrome was introduced from
Europe. Do we have any thoughts about how that might have taken
Mr. Moriarty. We do. We have discussed this. Right now
there is not a whole lot known other than it has been found
there. We don't see the mortalities associated with the
mortalities over here, but we don't see the densities of bats
that we see over here. So, we don't know quite what that means.
It could mean that there used to be many more bats, this
happened, and now they have adjusted to much smaller numbers.
That could be the case. We just don't know.
So, it would be very difficult to go much beyond that--
other than we need the research to address that issue.
Ms. Tsongas. Can bats cross the ocean?
Mr. Moriarty. Birds can. I don't know if there has ever
been documentation of a bat crossing the ocean on the air
currents. I get the answer ``occasionally''.
Ms. Tsongas. Has Canada encountered this?
Mr. Moriarty. Dr. Jerry McColman who is my White-Nose
Syndrome coordinator informed me last night that they think
they have suspicious sites; two in Ontario and two in--where
else? In Quebec. So, we are investigating them right now.
Ms. Tsongas. So, that leads me to the question of how much
coordination is taking place with the international community.
Mr. Moriarty. There will be a lot very soon. I don't know.
I do know that we do coordinate across borders very well, and I
am sure that the bat syndrome has been high on their mind
because they are watching it spread.
I have been informed that there is an international bat
meeting that we participated in last winter and we discussed it
at that meeting.
Ms. Tsongas. It really leads me to the thought, as we have
talked about, of a more coordinated approach generally. If you
attribute this to the inevitable impact of global warming, if
we don't really need a CDC for fish and wildlife, then as these
kinds of new illnesses come forward, there is in place an
entity that can move as quickly as we have seen, for example,
around swine flu--simply to contain the impact and better
understand its implications for our fish and wildlife and for
our broader economy.
Mr. Moriarty. And that suggestion has been loud and clear.
I would add that we have been working with the CDC as well on
this issue. They have been a very, very helpful partner on it.
Ms. Tsongas. Thank you, and I yield back.
Mr. Moriarty. Thank you.
Ms. Bordallo. I thank the gentlelady, and now I would like
to recognize the gentlelady from New Hampshire, Mrs. Shea-
Ms. Shea-Porter. Thank you, Chairwoman, and Chairman
Grijalva, for having this hearing, and I had requested that we
look into this because I was so concerned about the impact in
the Northeast, in New Hampshire where I live, and where I might
not always have appreciated the bats that got into our house
when I was growing up--as a matter of fact, I was terrified of
them, I am sorry to say--I recognize how important their role
is in our environment and what a tragedy this is unfolding, and
thank you for your work to highlight this and to try to figure
out what is going on.
In order to give these bats the best fighting chance, I
know that some types of chemicals and other things in our
environment are impacting them as well, is there something we
can do while we try to save them from this syndrome to also be
working just as vigorously to protect them from certain
chemicals and certain other challenges that they have?
Mr. Moriarty. That is an excellent question. We simply
don't know to what extent the existence of those chemicals in
the environment is precluding the bats to possibly be affected
by this particular fungus. That will be part of the research
that we are doing to ensure that. Outside of that I just simply
don't know of any mechanism to provide that protection that is
necessary, so I think the knowledge about the transmission, how
it takes hold and what the triggers might be will be very, very
important to answering that question.
Ms. Shea-Porter. Are we stepping up the research for say
affects of pesticides?
Mr. Moriarty. That is on the table for us to be
investigating. I would like to add that since the chronic-
wasting disease has come through, there have been different
decision tools that have been put in place that have been very
helpful to us, and we use one now called structured
decisionmaking, which allows us to better get our scientists
together, pose all of these various questions to them in very
specific questions, and have them work through them in a way
that informs our management priorities and our research
priorities. So, there have been upgrades, I would say, since
our chronic-wasting disease effort, and it is helping greatly
in this effort as well.
Ms. Shea-Porter. Is there a public education role here? And
also on top of that, I know that we are talking about hundreds
of thousands, but would individual bat houses in any way
diminish the impact of all of them? Would they offer a bat
Mr. Moriarty. Well, actually, the bat houses are very
helpful because they use them in the summertime. The problem
that we are having is when they leave the bat houses and go to
what we call hibernacula. In the winter, they group together
and they gain warmth from their numbers. They are not in the
bat houses at that time, but bat houses are very useful for us.
Ms. Shea-Porter. Just to help them to continue to survive.
The other question I had was, is there any role that we have to
fill right now for what they are not able to do because they
are dying in such large numbers?
For example, we know that they eat insects, thousands,
right, for an hour and they are very effective predators. Is
there something that we need to be doing as a society knowing
that they are not doing that work right now in order to control
any possible problem down the road involving some kinds of
insects that are dangerous for mankind?
Mr. Moriarty. The only control we know of right now in the
absence of the bats will be an increased use of pesticides and
Ms. Shea-Porter. OK, so we are kind of caught in that
dilemma knowing it could have an impact on them. We appreciate
the research and again I heard my colleagues talk about the
funding, and I think this is something that requires as much
funding as you think it needs right now and the research has to
be focused across several disciplines because this really is
incredibly serious. And I thank you again for holding the
hearing. I yield back.
Ms. Bordallo. I thank the gentlelady for her questions, and
just to wrap up the first panel here, I think I have just a
couple of closing questions to Mr. Moriarty. How will the
Department of the Interior address concerns that the
composition of the Wind Turbine Advisory Committee is
unbalanced to ensure that the impacts of wind projects are
minimized on bat populations already ravaged by White-Nose
Mr. Moriarty. That is a very interesting question, Madam
Chairwoman. Did I hear you say that the FACA committee that has
been put together is unbalanced?
Ms. Bordallo. Yes.
Mr. Moriarty. OK, I am unable to address that. I don't
really know myself about that, but I do know that
recommendations coming from the committee soon will be used to
help us evaluate the projects for siting, for environmental
impacts and the like. Hopefully those guidelines will enable us
to do a much better job than we are currently able to do
because we don't have those guidelines in place. All we are
using is some guidelines that we developed in the Northeast
many years ago.
Ms. Bordallo. Right.
Mr. Moriarty. We will have to include other stressors in
all of those guidelines. Those stressors will include climate
change, they will include White-Nose Syndrome, they will
include other types of wildlife diseases if they in fact are
impacted by the turbines. So, that will all be included in the
normal evaluation process that the Service does.
Ms. Bordallo. How soon do you think the committee----
Mr. Moriarty. That I am not aware of, Madam Chairwoman,
right now how soon that will be.
Ms. Bordallo. No idea at all?
Mr. Moriarty. Well, I do know it is fairly soon. They have
Ms. Bordallo. Fairly soon. All right.
Mr. Moriarty. Yes.
Ms. Bordallo. I would request that the Committee receives a
copy of that.
And in February of last year the Center for Biological
Diversity submitted a petition to the Fish and Wildlife Service
to immediately stop implementation of any Federal projects that
could affect bats, re-initiate formal consultations under
Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act and close bat
hibernation sites to the public. Now, the petition also calls
upon Fish and Wildlife to allocate additional funding for
research and remedial action.
What is the status of that petition?
Mr. Moriarty. Madam Chairwoman, I am going to have to ask
Wendy Weber, my Deputy Regional Director, and who is now the
Acting Regional Director in the Northeast Region, to address
that, but I would just start out by saying that the petition
actually does concern us greatly because if we have to go do
what the petition asks for right now, it would divert all of
our resources into those actions which we think those resources
are much better directed at developing the science and the
management expectations that, or the management recommendations
that are needed.
But as far as the status of that petition I would have to
defer to my Deputy Regional Director. Wendy.
Ms. Weber. Yes, thank you.
Ms. Bordallo. Would you identify your name for the record,
Ms. Weber. Oh, I am sorry. Wendy Weber, Fish and Wildlife
Service, Northeast Region.
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you.
Ms. Weber. We are currently evaluating the population
status now so we can make the appropriate decision on how it
relates to the Endangered Species Act consultation decisions
that we have made, so we are currently looking at population
status now and the effect of this.
But complementing what Mr. Moriarty said is that we are at
the same time making sure our highest priority--you asked about
funding--is being focused at research and mitigation and
control and management decisions that need to be made at the
Ms. Bordallo. Do you have any idea when we will have some
answers on that?
Ms. Weber. We are working on it diligently now with our
partners at USGS on population modeling. We hope by the end of
the summer we will have some more definitive answers.
Ms. Bordallo. Good. The end of the summer should be a
banner time. Thank you very much.
Ms. Weber. Thank you.
Ms. Bordallo. And I thank the first panel, and I would like
now to recognize the second panel of this hearing.
Our witnesses on the second panel are: Dr. Merlin D.
Tuttle, President and founder, Bat Conservation International;
Mr. Scott Darling, Wildlife Biologist, Vermont Fish and
Wildlife Department; Mr. Peter Youngbaer, White Nose Syndrome
Liaison, National Speleological Society; and Dr. Thomas Kunz,
Director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology and
Professor of Biology, Boston University.
Good morning, gentlemen, and welcome to the hearing. I
would like to welcome first Dr. Tuttle and thank him for
appearing before the Subcommittee.
As I mentioned for the previous panel, and I am sure you
were here and heard it but I will repeat it, the red timing
light on the table will indicate when your time is concluded,
but be assured that your full written statement will be entered
into the record.
And now, Dr. Tuttle, please proceed.
STATEMENT OF MERLIN D. TUTTLE, Ph.D., PRESIDENT AND FOUNDER,
BAT CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL
Mr. Tuttle. Chairwoman Bordallo, Chairman Grijalva, and
Ranking Members Bishop and Cassidy, thank you very much for
holding this hearing and for inviting me to testify.
My name, again, is Merlin Tuttle. I am the founder and
President Emeritus of Bat Conservation International. I studied
bats for 50 years and have headed Bat Conservation
International's worldwide conservation efforts for 27 years.
Never in my wildest imagination had I dreamed of anything that
could pose this serious a threat to America's bats.
As Messrs. Holtrop and Moriarty have already pointed out,
and as our Chairwoman has emphasized, this is a very serious
issue. We don't need to go into all the details again. It
probably is the most serious threat to American wildlife of the
If I could have a slide. I need a slide. OK, if we look
here, from the epicenter in New York this spread in just two
winters to almost all the Northeastern United States, and then
last winter it spread all the way down to southern Virginia,
and north into Canada.
Over here--I hope everybody can see this--a little bit
farther to the west in Tennessee, Kentucky and Alabama, we have
the largest bat hibernating caves known probably in the world,
certainly in the United States, and these contain two of our
most endangered species; 95 percent the endangered Indiana bats
up in this area; probably 100 percent of endangered grey bats
down in here. It is very reasonable to expect that within the
next three years or less these key populations will be directly
threatened by White-Nose Syndrome. I suspect that it will cover
the whole eastern U.S. within four years and spread to the West
Coast within five or six years.
This is the most alarming event in the lifetime of a person
who has devoted his life to recovering these populations. We
have successfully recovered literally millions of endangered
bats only now to face losing them.
Last week we hosted--Bat Conservation International hosted
in Austin, Texas, a group of preeminent, the most relevant
scientists in America to this issue, and these scientists
reached consensus on the following three points:
If not slowed or stopped, more than a quarter of the United
States 46 species may have to be listed as endangered by the
Federal government. As has already been stated, some of our
most widespread and abundant species may literally become
Two, unstopped, as we have already heard, this is serious,
potentially irreversible in terms of its harm to the
environment and economy.
Number three, we urgently need a comprehensive national
research program to identify underlying causes and develop
sound management solutions.
To date, Federal and state agencies and private NGO's have
done a really good job in terms of what they have had to work
with. They have striven diligently, but they are being
overwhelmed by the scope and the rapid spread of something
totally unexpected. They are also hampered by a woeful lack of
funding for the necessary research. We need supplemental
emergency funding, perhaps through the stimulus bill, it is
needed immediately. We cannot afford red tape delays.
Minus solid research, any attempted management could prove
futile and even counterproductive. This is a case in which an
ounce of prevention is probably worth tons of cure.
I appreciate your concern, your interest in helping, and I
look forward to your questions. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Tuttle follows:]
Statement of Merlin D. Tuttle, Ph.D., Founder and President Emeritus,
Bat Conservation International
This testimony is presented by Dr. Merlin D. Tuttle, Founder and
President Emeritus of Bat Conservation International (BCI), the
international leader in bat conservation. He has studied bats
for 50 years, including extensive research on seasonal
migration and behavior of bats in the southeastern United
States. The full testimony is submitted for the record. Dr.
Tuttle will summarize his statement for the Committee on the
emergent and disturbing threat to bats known as ``White-Nose
Syndrome'' or ``WNS,'' This written testimony contains a
summary of the current scientific understanding of WNS, a
discussion of the current Federal, State, local and private
responses to its spread, and recommendations for Federal
actions needed to further comprehend and contain this crisis.
WNS has spread across the Northeastern states and beyond in the
past three years, killing an estimated 1 million bats. Mortality rates
of 95 to100 percent are reported among infected bat populations. The
disease reached Virginia last winter and bats throughout North America
are at risk, with devastating ecological and economic consequences.
Some of the best wildlife scientists and conservationists in America
are desperately seeking solutions, but questions still are far more
plentiful than answers. Research efforts to date have been largely
uncoordinated and underfunded. Urgent Congressional action is needed to
establish a clear leadership role at the federal level, to require
development of a national strategy to understand and combat WNS, and to
fund targeted research and mitigation efforts nationally.
Chairman Grijalva, Chairwoman Bordallo and Members of the
Subcommittees, my name is Merlin Tuttle, Founder and President Emeritus
of Bat Conservation International (BCI). I've studied bats for 50
years, especially in the areas most currently threatened by the spread
of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), and for the past 27 years I've led Bat
Conservation International's worldwide conservation efforts. With
members in 60 countries, we are a nonpartisan, science-based
organization and have become the world leader in the conservation of
bats and the ecosystems they serve. We have led efforts to educate the
public to a better understanding of bats as essential to healthy
ecosystems and economies and have protected and restored many of
America's most important remaining bat populations, including those of
endangered gray and Indiana bats.
I am here today at your request, and I appreciate the opportunity
to discuss the ecological crisis caused by WNS and look forward to
responding to any questions from the Subcommittee. In my invitation, I
was asked to address three topics and, after providing background
information, I will focus most of my comments on these specific areas.
More than 1,100 species of bats worldwide account for nearly 20% of
all mammals, yet they are poorly studied and often neglected in
conservation planning. Forty-six species occur in the United States,
and many of these have declined alarmingly 1. Nine species
or subspecies of bats in the U.S. and territories are listed as
endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and 24 are designated
as species of concern (formerly Category 2 candidates for listing under
\1\ O'Shea, T. J., and M. A. Bogan, editors. 2003 Monitoring trends
in bat populations of the United States and territories: problems and
prospects. U.S. Geological Survey, Biological Resources Discipline,
Information and Technology Report, USGS/BRD/ITR-2003-0003.
Little is known about historical or current populations of most
species. The most accurate population assessments are for those that
form large colonies in caves and mines, but even these are often
inadequately monitored with the exception of endangered species. Most
experts base inferences on population trends on changes in capture
rates over time, winter counts at hibernation roosts and trends in
habitat loss or protection1. Bats are long-lived and have exceptionally
low reproductive rates, population growth is relatively slow, and their
ability to recover from population decline is limited, thereby
increasing the risk of extinctions 2.
\2\ Barclay, R. M. R., and L. M. Harder. 2003. Life histories of
bats: life in the slow lane. Pages 209-253 in T. H. Kunz and M. B.
Fenton, editors. Bat ecology. University of Chicago Press, Chicago,
Bats play essential roles in keeping nature in balance. Like birds
by day, they are primary predators of the vast numbers of insects that
fly at night, including pests that cost American farmers and foresters
billions of dollars annually. Additionally, the droppings of bats that
live in caves provide primary energy for whole ecosystems of unique
life, no less than plants do for surface-dwelling animals. Bat-
dependent cave microorganisms provide potentially invaluable resources
for detoxifying industrial wastes as well as for producing safe
pesticides, gasohol and antibiotics. Loss of bats could have serious,
even irreversible consequences, both ecologically and economically.
Topics Requested by the Subcommittee
1) What is the current scientific understanding of WNS?
The affliction has been given the name ``White-Nose
Syndrome'' (WNS) because of the telltale white fungus growing on the
noses and sometimes wings, ears, and tail of most infected bats.
The direct cause of mortality associated with WNS is
still unknown. We do not know if the fungus is the sole cause of death
or an opportunistic pathogen that takes advantage of weakened immune
2008 bat-population surveys suggested a two-year
population decline in excess of 75% 3 at affected sites, and
mortality continues. By 2009, losses approach 100% at some locations,
as an estimated one million bats have died. 4
\3\ Blehert, David S., Alan C. Hicks, Melissa Behr, Carol U.
Meteyer, Brenda M. Berlowski-Zier, Elizabeth L. Buckles, Jeremy T.H.
Coleman, Scott R. Darling, Andrea Garga, Robyn Niver, Joseph C.
Okoniewski, Robert J. Rudd, and Ward B. Stone. 2008. Bat White-Nose
Syndrome: An Emerging Fungal Pathogen? Science vol. 323. Published
online 30 October 2008. 10.1126/science.1163874. www.sciencemag.org.
\4\ Proceedings from the Second WNS Emergency Science Strategy
Meeting, May 27-28, 2009 in Austin, TX. In Prep.
At the current rate of spread, the most critical
hibernation sites for federally endangered Indiana bats (Myotis
sodalis), gray bats (Myotis grisescens), Virginia big-eared bats
(Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus) and Ozark big-eared bats
(Corynorhinus townsendii ingens) will face WNS within two years or
less, and several additional bat species may warrant consideration for
Endangered Species listing.
White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a mysterious ailment killing
hibernating bats throughout the northeastern states and rapidly
spreading south and west. Current field observations have shown that
bats affected by WNS are characterized by some or all of the following:
1) a white fungus that grows on the nose, ears, and wing membranes; 2)
depleted white and brown fat reserves by mid-winter; 3) a reduced
capacity to arouse from deep torpor; 4) an compromised immune response
during hibernation; 5) ulcerated, necrotic and scarred wing membranes;
and 6) atypical behavior causing bats to emerge prematurely from
hibernacula in mid-winter.
Laboratory studies have isolated a previously undescribed
psychrophilic (cold-loving) fungus in the genus Geomyces from bats
affected with WNS5. This fungus grows on the skin (nose, ears, and wing
membranes) of hibernating bats, and laboratory studies have revealed
that it grows optimally at low temperatures characteristic of bat
hibernation caves. There is histological evidence that the fungus
sometimes penetrates the dermis, especially in areas associated with
sebaceous glands and hair follicles. Genetically identical isolates of
this fungus have been collected directly from bats located in widely
dispersed hibernacula in the northeastern United States. In laboratory
environments, the fungus was initially cultured at 3+C (37.4+F), grew
optimally between 5+C and 10+C (41-50+F), but grew marginally above
15+C (59+F). The upper growth limit was about 20+C (68+F) 3. Affected
bat hibernation sites seasonally range between 2+C (35.6+F) and 14+C
(57.2+F), permitting year-round growth and potential reservoir
maintenance of the fungus5.
Analysis of preliminary data indicate that concentrations of
chlorinated hydrocarbon contaminants, pyrethroids and heavy metals are
not markedly elevated in bats examined, nor have known bacterial or
viral pathogens been identified. Narrowing the field of potential
causative agents requires research to understand whether the causative
agent is pathogenic and if the fungus associated with WNS is, in fact,
itself a pathogen. Both field and laboratory investigations will be
required to assess several intrinsic and extrinsic factors that may
contribute to this condition.
2008 bat-population surveys suggested a two-year decline in excess
of 75%. 5 However, mortality rates approaching 100% have now
been documented in hibernation roosts (caves and mines) found to have
WNS 6. In caves where fewer than 100% of the bats died the
first year, populations continued to decline in successive years.
Damage to wings and bodies persists in bats that survive a winter in
WNS-affected populations, thus likely reducing their ability survive
and reproduce. Six species of bats (all those that hibernate in caves
or mines) in northeastern states have been affected by WNS; Indiana
bats (Myotis sodalis), little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), eastern
small-footed bats (Myotis liebii), northern long-eared bats (Myotis
septentrionalis), tri-colored bats (Perimyotis subflavus), and big
brown bats (Eptesicus fuscus).
\5\ Blehert, David S., Alan C. Hicks, Melissa Behr, Carol U.
Meteyer, Brenda M. Berlowski-Zier, Elizabeth L. Buckles, Jeremy T.H.
Coleman, Scott R. Darling, Andrea Garga, Robyn Niver, Joseph C.
Okoniewski, Robert J. Rudd, and Ward B. Stone. 2008. Bat White-Nose
Syndrome: An Emerging Fungal Pathogen? Science vol. 323. Published
online 30 October 2008. 10.1126/science.1163874. www.sciencemag.org.
\6\ Proceedings from the Second WNS Emergency Science Strategy
Meeting, May 27-28, 2009 in Austin, TX. In Prep.
If mortality events of this magnitude continue to occur, the number
of U.S. hibernating bat species requiring federal endangered listings
could more than quadruple the current number listed (4) and threaten
some previously common species with extinction. For example, the little
brown bat, now one of America's most widespread and abundant species,
is experiencing 95 to 100% population losses at some infected
hibernation sites6. To date, all cave-dwelling species exposed to WNS
have been susceptible, and approximately half of America's 46 species
enter caves during some part of their annual cycle. We have estimated
that more than a million bats have died in three years from WNS, and
the largest hibernating colonies of endangered bats are expected to be
at risk in the next two years.
Transmission and Spread
In just three years since its discovery near Albany, New York, WNS
has spread beyond the northeastern United States and now infects at
least nine states: New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New
Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, West Virginia and Virginia
While the rapid rate of spread is readily apparent by the
distribution of newly affected sites, the mechanism for transmission is
still unconfirmed. Research is underway at the USGS National Wildlife
Health Center to determine the likelihood of transmission among bats by
physical contact as well as through environmental exposure. Data are
still being analyzed, but preliminary results indicate that
transmission between bats can occur. Humans may also inadvertently
transport WNS from infected sites to clean sites, though bat-to-bat
transmission is believed to be the primary route. Research is underway
to investigate the feasibility of transmission to bats by humans at the
University of Northern Kentucky and at the National Wildlife Health
At the current rate of spread, the most critical hibernation sites
for endangered Indiana bats (Myotis sodalis) and gray bats (Myotis
grisescens) will face WNS within two years or less (Appendix I). One of
America's most important hibernation caves, which shelters eight
species, including over 250,000 endangered gray bats, is currently just
120 miles from the nearest infected cave in southern Virginia. If
nothing is done to slow its spread, WNS likely will infect caves/mines
critical to 95% or more of remaining populations of endangered gray and
Indiana bats within the next two to three years and could move
continent-wide, unless a solution to stop or slow its movement is found
(Appendix I). More than 30 years of conservation progress costing
millions of dollars could be lost very quickly. The gray bat has
recovered to the point where down-listing from endangered status could
now be considered in the absence of threats from WNS. The most rapidly
growing populations of Indiana bats may also suffer heavy losses.
2) What are the current Federal, State, local and private responses to
A loose regional coalition of government agencies and
NGOs, developed through voluntary participation and led by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, is sharing information to better understand
and combat the spread of WNS.
Several organizations have held collaborative meetings to
prioritize and focus WNS efforts.
Regional and local cave closures have been implemented in
an attempt to slow the spread of WNS by reducing the likelihood of
It is vital that funds for critical research be made
available immediately. Without credible research to document a cause or
causes and explore potential remedies, other activities may prove
ineffective or even counterproductive.
The current response to WNS has emerged from multiple sources. The
USFWS has provided regional leadership (region 5), state agencies have
invested resources in monitoring and research, universities and
research laboratories are investigating critical questions, regional
bat working groups and non-profits have been mobilized to assist with
funding, and private industry has expressed willingness to collaborate.
Unfortunately, WNS is moving so quickly across the region that agencies
and other groups have exhausted their staff and funds trying to address
the crisis. This loose coalition of entities is a committed group that
is looking for national leadership and guidance in order to capture and
direct their efforts.
Current Voluntary Regional Coalition
Over the last three years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has
hosted and participated in numerous conference calls devoted to
monitoring and updating a wide variety of federal and state agencies,
research labs and universities, land managers, non-governmental
organizations, and private industry on WNS issues. These groups have
come together with very little funding or legislative authority to form
a loose regional coalition to understand and combat the spread of WNS.
They are making the most of available resources, but a severe lack of
funding to support priority research is greatly hampering progress, as
is a lack of clearly defined, overall leadership.
Strategic Planning Meetings
Several organizations have also held a series of collaborative
meetings to prioritize and focus WNS efforts. In June 2008, the first
Science Strategy Meeting on WNS was held in Albany, New York, organized
by Bat Conservation International, Boston University's Center for
Ecology and Conservation Biology, Cornell University College of
Veterinary Medicine, the New York Department of Environmental
Conservation, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service. More than 100 participants from two Canadian
provinces and 20 U.S. state and federal agencies, eight universities
and four non-government organizations attended, discussing existing
knowledge and pending questions about the syndrome, and identifying
critical research priorities. Proceedings are available at
www.batcon.org/wns, and a manuscript will soon be submitted for journal
In February 2009, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hosted a
national information update webinar to review 2008 mortality,
monitoring efforts, and preliminary research results.
On May 27-28, 2009, a second Science Strategy Meeting on WNS was
held in Austin, Texas. It was organized by Bat Conservation
International and Boston University. Thirteen leadership scientists
from the most relevant fields and 11 representatives from the most
involved government agencies and NGOs participated, by invitation, in
the meeting. Financial sponsors included the Disney Rapid Response
Fund, the Department of Defense, the National Caves Association, the
National Parks Service and the National Speleological Society. Key
research projects were reviewed and revised research priorities were
identified. A resulting press release and consensus statement are
available at www.batcon.org/wns.
Critical Research and Monitoring
Because of the seasonal effects (mortality is during winter months
among hibernating bats) and the rapid spread of WNS, it is critical to
conduct priority research quickly. Delays of even a few months in
launching research projects can mean the passage of another winter of
mass mortality and the spread into still more states before results are
in. Non-governmental organizations have mobilized to help fund initial
experiments while universities and agency labs wait for federal
funding. This quick infusion of NGO funds bridged the immediate
financial gap, but NGOs lack the resources to address the mammoth
challenges of WNS.
Over the past year, Bat Conservation International has provided
$125,000 in support of scientific consensus building and emergency
research, and the National Speleological Society also has funded
$28,833 for emergency research. BCI, for example, donated more than
$4,500 for an environmental chamber the USGS National Wildlife Health
Center needed to promptly begin a study on the infectivity of the WNS
fungus, while awaiting federal funds. Most current research is woefully
underfunded. Government funds thus far have been used primarily for
Some federal funds have been awarded. In April 2009, a State
Wildlife Grant (SWG) was awarded to a consortium of 11 states affected
by WNS. This grant provides $940,000 over two years for a variety of
agencies to pay for staff time, buy equipment, carry out field work,
and coordinate monitoring activities. The SWG does not fund any of the
federal agencies or labs conducting research on WNS, nor provide funds
for priority research that is largely conducted by academic researchers
and their labs. It is urgently important that funds for critical
research be made available immediately. Without credible research to
document a cause or causes and explore potential remedies, other
activities may prove ineffective or even counterproductive.
Although research to confirm a cause and modes of transmission are
not yet complete, a series of cave closures and caving moratoriums have
been released. While we cannot stop WNS transmission by bats, several
organizations have recognized that it is prudent to reduce the
likelihood of added human transmission of WNS, potentially across long
distances, to unaffected sites in the rest of the country. The
following is a partial list of cave closures and moratoriums resulting
1. The Forest Service issued a 1-year emergency closure order for
all caves and mines on National Forest System lands in Forest Service
2. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended a 17-state caving
moratorium to help limit the spread of WNS.
3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has closed all of its caves
to public entry until further notice.
4. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the
Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Natural Heritage
Program have closed 62 critical bat caves to help slow the spread of
5. The National Speleological Society (NSS) closed preserves in
the USFWS advisory area.
6. Both the Northeastern and Southeastern Cave Conservancies
closed caves due to WNS.
3) What are the needed Federal actions to further comprehend and
contain this unparalleled crisis?
The most urgent need is to establish a national strategy
with clear leadership at a national level.
Implementation will require funding support at three
broad levels: 1) funds to develop and implement a national strategy to
address WNS; 2) research funding to identify the root cause of WNS
mortality and find solutions to manage its transmission and spread; and
3) agency support for monitoring, risk assessment, and risk management.
Reallocation of funds within existing agency budgets is
unlikely to prove sufficient to meet escalating needs without harm to
other programs. Supplemental 2009 funds are urgently needed.
Immediate Establishment of a National Strategy
Legislative action is needed immediately to establish a national
strategy with clear leadership. Many local and regional strategies are
underway to address WNS, but the speed of transmission and the scale of
losses have moved well beyond our current capacity to answer this
threat. The response to WNS has been fueled by passionate individuals
who care deeply about the resources they manage, but they can no longer
keep pace with the rate of spread. In the rush to address WNS, many
independent efforts are underway, but they lack a coordinated approach
directed by a national strategy with clear leadership.
Allocate Federal Funding
We recognize the difficult choices this committee must make to
allocate limited resources in this period of economic uncertainty.
However, implementation of a coordinated national strategy will require
funding support at three broad levels: 1) funds to develop and
implement a national strategy to address WNS; 2) research funding to
identify the root cause of WNS mortality and find solutions to manage
its transmission and spread; and 3) agency support for monitoring, risk
assessment and risk management. Reallocation of funds within existing
agency budgets is unlikely to prove sufficient to meet escalating needs
without harm to other programs. Supplemental 2009 funds are urgently
needed, and new funds must be budgeted in future fiscal years to
effectively address this disease.
Provide Funding to Develop and Implement a National Strategy
For the past 3 years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has
provided leadership for addressing WNS through its northeast regional
office (Region 5), but the rate of spread and threat to federally
endangered species demands a national approach and adequate funding for
its implementation. A WNS national strategy will enable stakeholders to
coordinate activities and prioritize research efforts and funding
allocations. Other wildlife epidemics, including Chronic Wasting
Disease and Avian Influenza, have benefitted from such a strategy. We
respectfully request that these subcommittees support the immediate
funding for development of a national strategy to accelerate the
efforts to slow WNS and prevent future endangered species listings or
Provide Funding to Promote Science Based Decision-Making
Without immediate research funding to identify causes and
solutions, extinctions are likely, even among species that are now
widespread and abundant. We desperately need the scientific data
required to make the appropriate, science-based decisions necessary to
slow the spread of WNS. Federal funding, in my opinion, has been
minimal and sporadic at best. Additional appropriations to support
research initiatives will be critical in the immediate future. This
should include appropriations to all federal agencies involved with WNS
research, potentially including the National Science Foundation, the
National Institutes of Health, the National Fish and Wildlife
Foundation, and other appropriate venues for supporting much needed
Another approach could involve establishing a federal fund for
priority research on WNS and its impacts. This funding could be
appropriated to and administered by, for example, the United States
Geological Survey. A scientific advisory committee embedded within the
framework of a developed national strategy would determine: (a) what
research needs to be done; (b) how research should be done (e.g., the
study design should be peer-reviewed); and (c) peer-review processes
required for credibility of work performed. All research findings would
be available to the public. This would lead to a body of well-designed
and accessible research results that decision-makers can rely on to
help mitigate WNS.
The threat of WNS is enormous and imminent. We urge you and your
colleagues to support significant funding for priority research into
this potentially devastating and costly disease before the damage
Provide Funding to Support Federal and State Agencies
In this difficult economic climate, state and federal agencies are
having difficulty addressing WNS with existing resources. Current
budget shortfalls and hiring freezes have made mounting an effective
response and accommodating federal grant-matching requirements
impossible. We respectfully request that these subcommittees support
the appropriation of new funds to enable the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other agencies to fund
critical research and develop mitigation strategies for slowing or
halting WNS. As the bats return to their hibernation caves this fall,
it is vital that agencies have the resources in place to conduct
required research and monitoring. We ask for your help in providing
immediate, emergency funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,
the U.S. Geological Survey, and state fish and wildlife agencies for
research, management, coordination, and outreach in order to provide an
appropriate, coordinated response to this deadly, newly emergent
Our position is best summarized through a consensus statement
developed by the group of prominent scientists and wildlife managers
who met on May 27-28, 2009 at the second WNS Science Strategy meeting
in Austin, Texas.
``White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) is a devastating disease of
hibernating bats that has caused the most precipitous decline
of North American wildlife in recorded history. Since it was
first discovered in 2006, WNS has infected six species of
insect-eating bats in the northeastern and southern U.S.,
causing declines approaching 100% in some populations;
estimated losses have exceeded one million bats over the past
three years. If the spread of WNS is not slowed or halted,
further losses could lead to the extinction of entire species
and could more than quadruple those that are federally listed
as endangered in the U.S. Such losses alone are expected to
have unprecedented consequences on ecosystem health throughout
North America, with unknown economic consequences. Most bat
species in North America feed on night-flying insects, of which
many are pests of forests, agriculture, and garden crops or
pose risks to human health. The number of insects consumed
annually by one million bats is staggering--equivalent to
694,456 tons--emphasizing the extraordinary value of these bats
to the normal function of both terrestrial and aquatic
ecosystems. Establishment of a national comprehensive research
program is urgently needed to identify underlying mechanisms
causing WNS and to develop sound management solutions.''
American bats have never faced so dire a threat. The threat of WNS
is enormous and imminent. We urge you and your colleagues to support
the development of a national strategy and significant funding for
well-targeted research into this potentially devastating disease before
the damage becomes irreversible. Effective conservation action now may
be critical to avoid the potentially crippling costs of federal
protection for additional endangered species. Please help us address
this threat that may have far reaching ecological, economic and social
effects throughout North America.
Chairman Grijalva, Chairwoman Bordallo and Members of the
Subcommittees, on behalf of Bat Conservation International I want to
thank you for inviting me to share this information and assist you on
this important issue. I would be happy to answer any questions you may
[GRAPHIC(S) NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Response to questions submitted for the record by Dr. Merlin D. Tuttle
Questions from Ranking Republican Member Henry E. Brown, Jr. (R-SC)
(1) Mr. Tuttle, you have been studying bats for 50 years. Have bats
ever faced a crisis like the White-nose syndrome?
No. This is exceeding anything I ever could have dreamed of.
(2) If we are unable to stop the spread of this disease, what
catastrophic impacts are we likely to experience?
Like birds by day, bats consume the vast numbers of insects that
fly at night, including pests that cost farmers and foresters billions
of dollars in annual losses, but few studies have measured exact
impacts. Tom Kunz, based on his published research, estimated that just
one bat species, in the Texas Winter Garden area alone, saves cotton
growers approximately three-quarters of a million dollars annually,
some years up to 1.7 million dollars in avoided pesticide spraying.
That doesn't even include the region's other crops that also benefit.
He also documented that the approximately one million bats already lost
in the Northeast, would have consumed 1.39 million pounds of insects
annually. In a study published in the April 4, 2008 issue of Science,
Dr. Kim Williams et al., reported that bats significantly limited
insects in the agroforestry system they studied and emphasized the need
for further research on bat impacts. They concluded that ``Declining
bat populations may compromise critical ecosystem services, making an
understanding of their conservation status vital.'' There is much we
still do not know about bat impacts, but what we do know suggests that
the massive losses we anticipate, if WNS is not stopped, could
seriously threaten ecosystem balance as well as human economies,
(3) What do you think is the cause of this disease and why do you
believe it has become more deadly over time?
Available evidence points to a newly introduced fungus, but that
has yet to be scientifically confirmed. Attempts to manage this
affliction without first documenting its cause and mode of transmission
through sound research, could prove useless or even counterproductive.
If not funded very soon, even the best research could be too late to
make a difference.
(4) Mr. Tittle, you mentioned the seasonal effects of the disease.
What happens to WNS in the summer months?
Currently available evidence indicates that this fungus becomes
inactive at higher summer temperatures, resuming growth only when bats
reenter hibernation in winter. Infected bats have been shown to arouse
too frequently, burning excessive amounts of fat, making it impossible
to survive till food again becomes available in spring.
(5) You mentioned that Bat Conservation International has spent
$125,000 for emergency research into the causes of the White-
nose syndrome. What have you learned from these efforts?
Part of those funds were spend organizing strategic planning
sessions where scientists developed consensus on needed research. The
remainder were spread across several projects. Early results from these
have documented the consistent presence of a unique fungal species on
infected bats, that bats are arriving at hibernation caves with fat
reserves sufficient to survive winter, and that too frequent arousals
are depleting fat prematurely, leading to starvation before spring. We
are partnering with other organizations to accomplish this. Without our
help, several key projects leading to the above cited knowledge
breakthroughs, likely would not have been possible last winter. Some of
our funds also are being used to develop automated counting devices to
more actively monitor population trends in infected caves/mines without
causing stressful disturbance. What we have provided, though
significant, is just a tiny fraction of what is needed if we are to
find solutions before this rapidly spreading affliction does
potentially irreparable harm.
(6) Is it your belief that even if bats survive their initial exposure
to the White-nose syndrome that it destroys their immune system
to the point that their long term survival is in serious
In areas where bats have been infected for multiple winters, very
few remain, and we cannot confirm that even those are yet immune. The
fact that, so far, mortality has worsened with each passing winter at
infected locations is not encouraging.
(7) Do you agree with the testimony of Mr. Youngbaer that ``There is
no proof to date, or studies to establish proof'' of human
transmission of the White-nose syndrome?
I do agree with Mr. Youngbaer. It is certainly possible that human
transmission can occur and may be important in enabling long distance
jumps in distribution, but I am unaware of supporting evidence. Until
we learn more about modes of transmission, prudence is justified, but I
won't be surprised to see evidence emerging that supports at least the
lifting of some local restrictions. Available evidence suggests that
bat-to-bat transmission is by far the greatest source of spread. It is
prudent to be careful, but if all humans became extinct tomorrow, WNS
likely would continue its rapid spread. There is need for national
coordination so that whatever restrictions are imposed are appropriate
to available knowledge and are uniformly enforced to maximize
(8) Since in most cases the image that most Americans have about bats
is based on misinformation, why should the American people care
about the plight of various bat species in this country?
Because, like bats or not, they provide irreplaceable ecological
and economic services that we very much need. Fewer bats mean more
pesticide costs, to farmers and foresters as well as heightened threats
to human health.
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you very much, Dr. Tuttle, for your
comments and for your organization's commitment to bat
And I would now like to recognize Dr. Darling to offer his
testimony. Thank you for joining us.
STATEMENT OF SCOTT DARLING, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, VERMONT FISH
AND WILDLIFE DEPARTMENT
Mr. Darling. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Madam Chairwoman
and the Subcommittee members for this opportunity to come
before you to testify on this critical environmental issue of
My name is Scott Darling. I am a wildlife biologist for the
Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, and my testimony is also
supported by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Vermont's experience with White-Nose Syndrome began in
January 2008 when a recreational caver photographed a bat
exhibiting a white fungus in a cave in southwestern Vermont.
The next four months can only be described as a triage response
of cave surveillance, specimen collection, multi-agency
coordination, and outreach to the public and media.
As the winter progressed, bats afflicted with White-Nose
were being observed flying out of caves and landing on peoples'
residences, driveways and snow-covered lawns. Residents living
within miles of caves arrived home from work to find dozens of
dead or dying bats on or inside their homes.
May I please have the slide show?
One site, Aeolus Cave in Dorset, Vermont, now serves as the
poster child of the effects of White-Nose on a bat population.
In the winters of 2008 and 2009, Aeolus Cave quickly became a
morgue. Our observations, as shown in this slide, documented
bats freezing to death in clusters just outside the cave
entrance. Most other bats flew out of the cave, onto the
landscape to certain death. Those that could not take flight or
dare risk Vermont's freezing winter temperature dropped to the
Next slide, please. In 2008, the mortality was such that
the mere stench of the carcasses precluded further surveillance
inside the cave. This slide shows the extent of the bat
carcasses littering the cave floor in 2009.
Next slide. I estimate that between 10 and 20 thousand dead
bats in this one cave chamber. Total mortality at Aeolus Cave
must be in the hundreds of thousands.
Next slide, please. Our final act at Aeolus Cave was to
salvage 500 specimens off of the cave floor to be archived at
the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Thank you.
Small sites where complete counts of hibernating bats can
be conducted provide sobering data showing declines of 95
percent of the cave's bat population. All of the major
hibernates in Vermont are infected now, including the two
largest in New England. I estimated that Vermont has lost as
many as 400,000 bats in the last two years.
State fish and wildlife agencies play a crucial role in
front-line activities to combat WNS. However, bat conservation
programs are typically conducted by less than one full-time
staff position. State agency budgets, hiring constraints and
matching requirements of Federal funds preclude adequate state
involvement at this time.
State fish and wildlife agencies concur that the Fish and
Wildlife Service should play a leadership role in coordinating
a national response to WNS. WNS is no longer just a regional
issue. The FWS and the USGS are the appropriate arms of the
Department of the Interior to oversee this task. One or both of
the agencies should assign a national coordinator to oversee
the development and implementation of the national plan.
The need for Federal action can be organized into three
First, the Fish and Wildlife Service and USGS must be
provided the funding and staffing to coordinate the national
plan. They cannot continue to patch together a framework from
Second, an infusion of additional Federal dollars to WNS
research, surveillance and management is critical. A
supplemental budget appropriation and increases in DOI's 2010
budget and beyond are needed.
Third, the Fish and Wildlife Service needs the authority to
implement or encourage necessary surveillance and containment
measures at privately owned caves, outbreak surveillance,
collection of infected bats, decontamination or cave
quarantines are critical potential management tools not
available to state or Federal agencies at this time.
In closing, in my 27 years in this profession I never could
have imagined such a dramatic and swift decimation of a suite
of species of wildlife. Much of the country, however, is at a
tipping point watching to see if we can muster together the
energy, the resources and the public will to address this
[The prepared statement of Mr. Darling follows:]
Statement of Scott R. Darling, on behalf of the
Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department
Thank you, Chairman Grijalva and Chairwoman Bordallo, and
Subcommittee Members for the opportunity to come before the
subcommittees to testify on this critical environmental issue of
increasing national import. My name is Scott Darling, certified
wildlife biologist for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. I have
served in several capacities towards the Department's mission of
wildlife conservation and management during my 27-year career with the
organization, including big game species management, wildlife habitat
management, wildlife division director, and management of endangered
species such as the Indiana bat. I come before you today representing
the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, my experience serving as its
sole bat expert, and my personal response to witnessing first-hand the
devastation of a critical suite of species for which so many of us have
worked so hard to conserve. My testimony has also been reviewed and is
supported by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). I
will share with you the current threats and challenges that the Vermont
Fish and Wildlife Department is confronted with because of White-Nose
Syndrome (WNS), and I will also offer the shared perspective of the
challenges before other state fish and wildlife agencies as this crisis
unfolds across the country.
Understanding the role of state fish and wildlife agencies in
addressing WNS is essential to working toward a comprehensive,
collaborative resolution to the crisis. Unless otherwise federally
listed, the conservation of all bat species is the authority and
responsibility of state fish and wildlife agencies. For example, of
Vermont's nine species of bats, only the federally endangered Indiana
bat is eligible for federal protection and oversight. The remaining
eight species are the sole authority of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife
Department. The separation of state and federal authorities is
appropriate under most conservation efforts; however, such distinctions
add complexity for species such as bats that migrate across state
boundaries, if not regions, and for highly infectious wildlife diseases
such as WNS that can sweep across the country in a matter of a few
years. While this scenario is relatively new in the wildlife
conservation field, recent threats such as Chronic Wasting Disease
(CWD), Avian Influenza Virus, and the chytrid fungus affecting
amphibians both nationally and globally suggest that WNS is yet another
chapter, albeit more dramatic, in the increasing complexity of today's
wildlife conservation issues.
Vermont's Experience with White-Nose Syndrome
In the winter of 2007, Allan Hicks, a veteran New York Department
of Environmental Conservation (DEC) biologist distributed what is now
the most widely published picture of a cluster of eight hibernating
little brown bats, each exhibiting a white substance surrounding their
muzzles. His inquiry asking bat experts if they had ever observed such
a phenomenon yielded no results. Ensuing observations of extensive bat
mortality at caves in the Albany, New York region heightened concerns
over this discovery of unknown significance.
On Sunday night, January 21, 2008, this New York DEC biologist
called me at home, saying, ``This is a phone call you will wish you
never got.'' He advised me that a recreational caver (i.e., spelunker)
had just photographed the very same white substance on the nose of a
bat in a cave in Mt. Tabor, Vermont. This is the date that a successful
bat conservation program in Vermont turned into an environmental crisis
for the state.
Little did I know that WNS had already spread to several caves in
southern Vermont. The next four months can only be described as a
triage response of surveillance of caves and mines across the state,
specimen collection for cooperating labs such as the USGS National
Wildlife Health Center, multi-state and federal coordination as WNS
quickly expanded into Massachusetts and Connecticut, and outreach to
Vermont's recreational caving community, the general public, and the
media. The desperate need for surveillance was weighed against concerns
of potential, unknown human health risks and the prospects that we,
ourselves could be contributing to the spread of the disease by moving
from site to site or by making the bats more vulnerable to the deadly
disease by disturbing their hibernation patterns.
Unexpectedly, hibernating bats afflicted with WNS were being
observed flying out of caves and mines in the middle of the winter and
landing on people's residences, driveways, and lawns. The animal's
evolutionary adaptation that has allowed it to survive Vermont's harsh
winter weather, with its deep snows and sub-freezing temperatures, no
longer applied. Residents living near caves and mines arrived home from
work with a few to dozens of dead or dying bats on or inside their
homes. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department and the Vermont Health
Department viewed these events as significant potential rabies
exposures requiring immediate public outreach and response. We
established a hot-line with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service's (APHIS) Wildlife Services Program in Vermont to take phone
calls to screen rabies exposures, track dying bats, and notify the
Department of opportunities to collect specimens for lab analyses.
Additional citizen calls to my direct line ranged from 10 to 30 per
day. By the end of June, 2008, citizen reports had been submitted from
across two-thirds of Vermont. In 2009, the Department was able to
relieve itself of a majority of the citizen response work by
establishing an on-line reporting form and database to handle the more
than 600 submissions to date.
We had anticipated that bats surviving the winter hibernation
season (November through mid-April in Vermont) would have ready access
to insects for food and would regain their body weight and healthy
condition. However, bats captured in May and June exhibited significant
necrosis of their wing tissue. Consequently, many of these bats
continued to die on the landscape well into the summer.
In all, after four months of tireless work, assistance from the
over-extended U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) New England Field
Office endangered species biologist, and handcuffing shared and
temporary Department staff to assist in the surveillance, the Vermont
Fish and Wildlife Department had expended every remaining dollar in its
$50,000 State Wildlife Grant for bat conservation. Additional
surveillance work would have required 100% state funding and the money
simply was not there. White-Nose Syndrome surveillance halted in
Vermont until a cooperative agreement using the USFWS Extinction
Prevention grant funds was made available.
WNS Impacts to Vermont's Bat Populations
Initial estimates of bat mortality from four WNS-affected caves in
New York ranged from 81% to 97% mortality over a two-year period. Such
estimates highlighted the significance of this threat, but many
scientists, myself included, could not fathom the ability for any
pathogen to sweep so rapidly and thoroughly through a wildlife
population in its natural habitat.
Vermont's surveillance work during the winter of 2008 indicated
that WNS had afflicted four large bat hibernacula in the state. Citizen
reports of bat observations across the landscape along with Department
surveillance of observed mortality at these sites indicated that a
large number of bats would die from that year's affliction.
One site, Aeolus Cave in Dorset, Vermont now serves as the poster-
child for the effects of WNS on a bat population. Although only a
fraction of this cave is accessible to researchers, the large chamber
at its entrance has been studied since the 1930's and research in the
1960's documented the significance of this cave to the region's bat
population. Band returns from this work indicated that thousands of
bats hibernating at Aeolus Cave every winter migrate out to their
summer maternity colonies in New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts,
Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Simply put, Aeolus Cave has served as
winter refuge for many of the bats in the entire New England region for
the past 10,000 years.
In the winters of 2008 and 2009, Aeolus Cave quickly became a
morgue. Surveillance reports, photographs (see Attachment), and video
footage documented bats freezing to death in clusters just outside the
cave entrance, streaming out of the cave all winter long and, if they
did not cling to the trees outside the cave or flop onto the snow-
covered ground, flying out onto the landscape, perhaps in response to
their instincts to return to summer colony sites. Those that could not
take flight or dare risk Vermont's freezing winter temperatures dropped
to the cave floor. In 2008, the mortality was such that the mere stench
of the carcasses precluded surveillance inside the cave entrance. In
2009, I estimate the number of carcasses littering the cave floor to
between 10 and 20 thousand. Total mortality at Aeolus Cave must be in
the hundreds of thousands. I fear that the final measure of the
biological significance of Aeolus Cave now lies in the 500 little brown
bat specimens that we picked off the cave floor and shipped to be
archived at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Despite the grave situation at Aeolus Cave, the true impacts of WNS
might best be quantified from surveillance efforts at some of the
smaller, better accessible caves and mines where complete bat counts
can be conducted. One research site in Vermont, Greeley Mine on the
Green Mountain National Forest, is a gated abandoned talc mine that has
been surveyed for bats for the past 20 years. Consistently this site
overwinters over 1000 hibernating bats. This site, now infected with
WNS, declined to 615 bats in November 2008 and to just 33 bats in March
2009--a decline of 95% of the population. Of the remaining 33 bats, all
exhibited the fungus and a few of which were euthanized merely to put
an end to their suffering. This very same scenario played out at other
sites in New York and Massachusetts.
At this time, Vermont has observed only four of its 30 known bat
hibernacula that appear not to be affected with WNS. All of the major
bat hibernacula in Vermont are now infected. We also now know that six
of Vermont's nine species of bats are susceptible to the effects of
WNS. I estimate that Vermont has lost as many as 400,000 bats the past
two winters. While Vermonters continue to report observations of live
bats, far more numerous are reports of declines in the number of bats
in a barn, bat house, or flying around the deck at night. Night-time
bat capture surveys using mist-nets now being conducted in Vermont are
capturing one to two bats per night at sites that typically would have
caught an average of five to ten. This past weekend, biologists
returned to an earlier survey site and captured only one bat--the same
bat captured and banded a few nights before. More research is being
conducted to quantify the changes in bat populations, but the initial
evidence is bleak.
Perhaps more troubling is the reality that the very low
reproductive rate of bats (i.e., a single pup born to a female each
year) precludes their ability to rebound from a drastic event like WNS.
Bats cannot produce the numbers of young like birds, rodents, or
amphibians. Because of this, I fear that the next generation of
Vermonters will never see bats, as we have, in their lifetime.
Vermont, like an increasing number of states, is experiencing this
environmental crisis first-hand. We are the beginning of this
ecological experiment on the importance of parts of an ecosystem to the
State Fish and Wildlife Agency Response to WNS
My testimony is greatly informed by the experiences of the Vermont
Fish and Wildlife Department in its effort to address WNS in our state.
However; my direct working relationships with other state fish and
wildlife agency biologists working on WNS provide a broader perspective
on state fish and wildlife agency responses, responsibilities, and
It is the state fish and wildlife agencies that provide on-the-
ground local knowledge of bat populations, historic survey results,
locations of caves and mines where bats hibernate, and information on
key summer colony habitat. State fish and wildlife agencies are often
the most credible, familiar voice in providing public outreach and
education. In addition, state wildlife biologists play a role in
implementing or assisting in much of the research activities associated
with WNS. Therefore, any strategies to contain WNS or slow its
progression across the country will require an increased level of
effort from state fish and wildlife agencies.
I am hopeful that Vermont's brief history with WNS provides an
example of the activities and demands needed to respond to the crisis
once it enters a state. From New York to Virginia to Wisconsin, state
fish and wildlife biologists are deeply entrenched in the battle to
confront WNS. Like Vermont, most state bat conservation programs are
conducted by a total of less than one full-time equivalent staff
position. These biologists have numerous other duties and species that
they oversee. Their ability to adequately respond to immediate,
unanticipated crises such as WNS is severely limited by staffing,
funding, and at times, simply the hours in a day. In addition, many
state fish and wildlife agencies do not staff their own wildlife
veterinarian or have access to a state or university disease
Currently, state fish and wildlife agency WNS-related activities
extend across the full range of responsibilities, including:
monitoring caves and mines for WNS symptoms
monitoring the progression of the disease where confirmed
collecting specimens for lab analyses
participating in priority research at WNS-affected states
and control sites such as studying arousal patterns of hibernating
bats, body fat composition, immune systems
conducting pre and post-WNS monitoring of bat populations
outreach and coordination with the caving community
outreach and educating of citizens about WNS
outreach to media
As WNS now threatens bat populations in the southeastern and
central United States, the role of state fish and wildlife agencies
will be expanded to include participation in activities designed to
contain WNS or, more likely, slow its spread from region to region.
This will require a much greater ability to respond swiftly and
decisively to try and contain the disease to new sites and to preclude
the potential for human transmission to additional sites. The staffing
and funding necessary to respond in this manner is not currently
Lastly, after WNS marches through states such as Vermont, it is
highly likely that state fish and wildlife agencies will be working in
concert with federal agencies such as the USFWS to work toward the
slow, but essential recovery of bat populations. Many of the bat
species once common may very well become state or federally listed as
threatened or endangered. Let us not repeat this process across the
Coordinating a National Response to WNS
May I first commend the USFWS for stepping up to the plate and
taking on WNS coordination responsibilities when that niche was clearly
needed. In particular, their regional staff in the New England and New
York field offices were instrumental in such critical components as
multi-state coordination, the development of WNS protocols, and
assistance in conducting WNS surveillance. USGS staff at the National
Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin also availed their
expertise, their lab, and themselves in the race to determine what was
killing the bats.
Given the rapidity at which WNS has spread from New York to
Virginia in the past three winters, the responsiveness of state,
federal, academic, and non-profit agencies/organizations has been
nothing short of superb. Unfortunately, it is not enough.
We need to improve our coordination efforts to be more decisive and
responsive. To date, over 50 organizations are involved in determining
the cause, monitoring the disease's progression, and attempting to
contain the effects of WNS. This level of coordination is extremely
complex and cannot be successfully conducted using existing federal
staff maintaining additional non-related duties.
State fish and wildlife agencies involved in WNS concur that the
USFWS should play a leadership role in coordinating a national response
to WNS. WNS is no longer just a regional issue. The USFWS, in concert
with its sister agency, the USGS, are the appropriate management and
research arms of the Department of Interior to oversee this task.
Furthermore, the level of coordination, commitment, access to
expertise, and responsiveness warranted for WNS is very likely similar
to what has been or will be needed to address future highly infectious
wildlife diseases in this country.
One or both of the agencies should assign a national coordinator to
oversee the rapid development and orderly implementation of a national
plan to address WNS. The national coordinator position(s) must be
beholden to the priorities of the national plan, and not to any
particular department, program, or region. A national plan must provide
for the opportunity for significant participation, review, and comment
by state fish and wildlife agencies, academic institutions, and disease
experts and laboratories. The 2006 Plan for Assisting States, Federal
Agencies, and Tribes in Managing Chronic Wasting Disease in Wild and
Captive Cervids can serve as a model for organizing the effort using a
task force of state, federal, academic, and non-profit representatives
to approve a plan, portions of which can be developed by working
groups. This CWD plan allows the federal agencies to provide the tools
and financial assistance to states to implement consensus-based
strategies. Given the state of our knowledge about WNS; however, the
plan must be flexible enough to readily accommodate new information and
hypotheses. This planning exercise must be expedited in order to be
ready for 2010.
Like all federal agencies, the USFWS is procedurally constrained by
Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requirements that impede its
ability to accept recommendations from outside entities such as states,
academic institutions, and non-profit organizations. While a structure
or process that is compatible with FACA requirements is necessary, in
my opinion, developing a centrally coordinated effort led by the USFWS
that provides for adequate input from state fish and wildlife agencies,
participation by individuals or agencies representing a full array of
expertise, and the promotion of consensus opinions on priority research
and activities is imperative to a well-coordinated effort. A more
formalized structure needs to be put in place that allows for a
centralized decision-making entity representing those partnerships. We
can no longer continue to coordinate efforts through conference calls
of 25 to 50 participants. In the case of WNS, the importance of
decisiveness and responsiveness in implementing a national plan cannot
Federal Actions to Address WNS
The need for federal action can be organized into three separate
components. First, the USFWS and the USGS must be provided the funding
and the staffing to coordinate the development and implementation of a
national plan to address WNS. Inherent in this task is the need to
establish a structure that provides for state fish and wildlife agency
and other expert opinions and recommendations into the product. The
implications of WNS are far too serious, rapid, and complex to continue
to patch together a coordinated framework of existing personnel.
Requiring the National Wildlife Health Center's existing limited
personnel to serve as the lead federal agency directing WNS lab
testing, analyses, and reporting has never been adequate. Funds and
hiring authority are essential to both the USFWS and the USGS if we are
to take WNS head-on. Hiring practices that consume nearly a year to
complete are futile.
Second, an infusion of federal dollars to WNS research,
surveillance, and management is critical. Bats could not have picked a
worse time to fall victim to an infectious disease. Not unlike this
nation's deep recession, we do not get to choose when a crisis requires
our attention and commitment. To date, the USFWS has been very
responsive to redirecting existing appropriations and awarding grants
such as Extinction Prevention funds and Regional Competitive State
Wildlife Grants to WNS research and management. However, taking from
other existing programs is no long-term solution. A supplemental budget
appropriation and increases in the Department of Interior's FY2010
budget is needed. More long-term, stable funding is a must.
State fish and wildlife agency budgets and hiring constraints are a
major limitation to conducting the necessary planning and
implementation for WNS. Currently available USFWS federal aid funds
such as State Wildlife Grants include 50% match requirements that now
preclude most states from seeking new grants to conduct this work or
enhancing existing ones. State fiscal constraints are so severe at this
time that their respective bat experts cannot receive state-funded
approval to travel to meetings to formulate priority strategies,
coordinate work, or exchange information on WNS. The current framework
of cobbling together portions of federal and state fish and wildlife
employees' time to address WNS is unacceptable and doomed to fail.
Because addressing WNS is, in part, a race against time, funding is
essential to our ability to respond swiftly to conduct research, test
priority hypotheses, conduct surveillance, and implement containment
measures. Specifically, funding is needed for:
National coordination within USFWS and USGS in order to
develop the national plan and to organize and coordinate research
priorities, response protocols, information exchange, and funding of
priority WNS-related activities
Staffing for the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in
order to expedite lab analyses and conduct appropriate tests
High priority research that ranges from testing the
infectious nature of the Geomyces fungus to additional investigations
into the broad array of alternative potential causes
Development of potential captive-propagation programs for
vulnerable federally endangered species
Staffing and implementation of management activities such
as surveillance and potential containment work by state and federal
The implementation of species recovery strategies in
those regions where bat populations have been impacted
This crisis requires developing creative means to get people on the
ground now. Federal funds directed at establishing inter-agency
agreements to hire staff to serve within state fish and wildlife
agencies may a suitable alternative in the near term. Such employees
would serve as a vital link between state and federal agencies and be
able to assist both agencies in their duties. Such employees can also
potentially comprise a USFWS response team, albeit much smaller and
less formal than what exists within APHIS. This response team could
assist state fish and wildlife agencies in containment and surveillance
activities as WNS expands its range into the jurisdictions of states
having limited resources and experience in responding to WNS.
Third, federal action may be necessary to grant the USFWS the
authority to implement necessary surveillance and containment measures
on private lands, particularly on privately-owned caves with bats.
Actions such as outbreak surveillance, collection and testing of WNS-
suspect bats, management of WNS-positive bats, decontamination
requirements, or temporary cave quarantines are critical potential
management tools that are not necessarily available to state or federal
agencies at this time, but have proven to be essential in addressing
CWD. Creative and sufficient financial incentives for landowners for
such purposes may also be a tool worth developing and funding. The
movement of bats across state lines demonstrates the importance of
being able to respond to WNS threats decisively and immediately,
without which the ramifications extend well beyond individual state
It has been stated by some that bats are not particularly popular
and are in need of a good marketing agent. I beg to differ. In rural
America, people do have a connection to the land and the parts that
function as a whole. Vermonters know bats are important, they know they
are in trouble, and they know something is terribly wrong. At the end
of one of my recent speaking engagements in Manchester, Vermont, an
elderly woman raised her hand and said, ``Bats have been going to
Aeolus Cave for ten thousand years, and now they are all dead. That's
not right.'' The outpouring of support from Vermonters wishing us
success, offering their own theories for the disease, or wanting to
donate to the cause are verification that WNS is not just about bats.
It is about our responsibility as stewards of the environment.
The time for my professional, tempered response to the significance
of the implications of WNS is over. In a matter of two years, I have
witnessed the devastation of a bat population my Department had worked
so hard to conserve. In my 27 years in this profession, I could never
have imagined such a swift and dramatic decimation of an entire suite
of species. I dare say, the Green Mountains of Vermont have never
witnessed such an event as well.
May I reiterate that the battle against WNS is a race against time.
Vermont's role in WNS has quickly shifted to serving as a study site
for the role of bats in our ecosystem and the strategies needed to
recover the species. Much of the country; however, is at a tipping
point, watching to see if we can muster the energy, resources, and
public will to address this national environmental crisis.
[NOTE: Attachments have been retained in the Committee's official
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you, Dr. Darling, for your testimony
and your tireless work in Vermont.
Mr. Youngbaer, I invite you to present your testimony.
STATEMENT OF PETER YOUNGBAER, WHITE NOSE SYNDROME LIAISON,
NATIONAL SPELEOLOGICAL SOCIETY
Mr. Youngbaer. Thank you, Chairwoman Bordallo and Chairman
Grijalva, Members of the Subcommittee.
My name is Peter Youngbaer and I am testifying on behalf of
the National Speleological Society (NSS) as liaison of White-
Founded in 1941, with nearly 12,000 members in all 50
states and territories, the NSS does more than any other
organization to study, explore, and conserve cave and karst
resources; protect access to caves; encourage responsible
management of caves and their unique environments; and promote
Our members run the gambit from the casual recreational
caver to world class explorers, to full-time scientists who
work in the areas of geology, hydrology, biology, paleontology,
cartography, microbiology, and more. I mention these sciences
to make a point: That while White-Nose Syndrome has our focus
clearly on bats, we must keep the entire cave resource and cave
ecosystem in mind as we plan our science and management
White-Nose Syndrome has hit the NSS and the caving
community hard. We own and manage numerous cave preserves
across the country, many of them managed as bat hibernacula. Of
the first four New York caves where White-Nose was discovered,
two are ours.
As White-Nose has spread, the NSS, Cave Conservancy, state
and Federal agencies, private landowners have closed caves or
issued advisories curtailing cave access, covering more than 30
states and 10 of thousands of caves. The decontamination
protocol advisory issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
is nationwide. Regional, national and international caving
events both within and well outside the currently affected
region have been canceled or drastically cut back.
While the confirmed bat mortalities associated with White-
Nose have only spread to the Virginias, the effects of
management decisions are already nationwide.
The NSS has been actively involved in the White-Nose
investigation since the beginning. We have assisted in field
work, identifying White-Nose sites, collecting samples,
surveying bats, assisting with media and public relations,
running an active website, working on task forces, attending
conferences, and participating in conference calls with the
scientists and wildlife managers.
A year ago when the need for immediate research funding was
apparent we created a White-Nose Rapid Response Fund. Our
members have contributed over $55,000 and funded now five
critical research projects, some alone, and others jointly, to
help answer priority concerns identified by the science and
While we have learned some things over the past year and a
half, urgent research need immediate response if we are to
contain and beat White-Nose. While strongly implicated, we
don't know if the fungus is the causal agent or merely taking
advantage of bats weakened by something else. We need to know
more about how White-Nose is transmitted; more about how the
fungus affects bats; whether our decontamination protocols are
effective; what can either kill the fungus or help the bats
defend it off.
One thing we do know is the caves are delicate ecosystems.
They are not just about bats. Many other things live in caves,
including other endangered species, some as rare as in only one
cave. Water that flows through caves provides not only energy
and nutrients to cave dwellers, but is also a source of private
and public water supply.
If we move to high risk management strategies, containment
strategies such as biological or chemical controls or ceiling
sites, what other parts of the caves' ecosystems will we
affect? Research to test mitigation strategies must come before
widespread application. Science must inform our responses.
In terms of government responses in our view the
individuals I have met working with White-Nose have
demonstrated extraordinary passion, frequently working outside
the constraints of their jobs and funding sources. That said,
to most experienced cavers government policy responses have
been inconsistent, contradictory, confusing and sometimes
counterproductive. Despite that we have complied and helped
spread the word. We recognize that closure, including our own,
have essentially been prophylactic in nature to buy time for
the science to catch up. Now is that time.
We are asking you to recognize White-Nose as a national
problem, to support and fund a comprehensive national research
effort to address it. Current funding is inadequate and funding
Our written testimony contains more details on all of these
points. It also includes our policy statement on White-Nose,
and a downloadable brochure from our website which we have
created to reach out to the general public who comprise the
majority of cave visitation, contrary to thinking about
organized cavers being the prominent cave visitors. They come
to us for advice about safe caving practices. You should also
have a copy of our news conservation issue with an extensive
article on the chronology of White-Nose and the conservation
challenge it presents.
White-Nose is proceeding faster than we are at the moment.
We need to change that. Bats have a critical place in our
ecosystem. We need bats. Now they need us. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Youngbaer follows:]
Statement of Peter Youngbaer, White Nose Syndrome Liaison
for the National Speleological Society
Chairman Grijalva, Chairwoman Bordallo, Members of the
Subcommittees. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today
about the national crisis known as White Nose Syndrome or WNS, and to
ask for your help in addressing this emergency. It is in honor and a
My name is Peter Youngbaer, and I'm here testifying on behalf of
the National Speleological Society as its White Nose Syndrome Liaison.
I want to start by telling you a little about the NSS itself and
cave conservation generally, the effects to date on our membership, and
specifically our deep involvement in addressing the ravages of WNS. I
will then address the three specific questions posed in our invitation.
NSS--the organization and our WNS activities
With nearly 12,000 members in all 50 states and 200 local chapters,
or grottos, the National Speleological Society does more than any other
organization to study, explore, and conserve cave and karst resources;
protect access to caves; encourage responsible management of caves and
their unique environments; and promote responsible caving.
While WNS has our focus clearly on bats, we must keep the entire
cave resource in mind as we plan our science and management responses.
Founded in 1941, we are affiliated with the American Association
for the Advancement of Science, and the International Union of
Speleology. Conservation is a primary function of the NSS. We have
assisted in the protection of numerous bat hibernacula and habitat for
other endangered cave species. Our members worked hard to help pass the
Federal Cave Resources Protection Act and similar state legislation.
Our members run the gamut from the casual recreational caver to the
full time scientist. Our scientists work in the areas of geology,
hydrology, biology, paleontology, cartography, microbiology, and more.
Members of our Communications and Electronics and Cave Diving Sections
have developed many technologies used by industry and the military,
including underground communications and other electronic equipment,
hydrological, meteorological, and biological instruments, mapping aids,
electric lights and battery systems, and underwater gear, including the
rebreather. Our photographers have brought the wonders of the
underground to the general public. Our explorers have discovered the
breadth and depths of some of our National Parks caves, including
Carlsbad Caverns and its neighbor Lechuguilla--now over 100 miles--and
Mammoth Cave, the world's largest now at over 350 miles.
WNS has hit the NSS, its cave resources, and its membership hard.
Cavers noticed the first bat deaths in the winter of 2006-2007, in two
caves that we own and manage on our New York Nature Preserves. We were
the first to close our caves in response to WNS. This year, bats in our
West Virginia John Guilday Nature Preserve caves were found to have
WNS, and those caves are now closed. A full chronology and description
of the conservation challenges facing the NSS and its members is
included in an article I authored in the NSS News publication provided
to you with my testimony today. I will not repeat that here.
As the devastation has grown and spread, the NSS, Cave
Conservancies, State and Federal agencies, and some private cave owners
have closed caves or issued advisories curtailing cave access and
recommending decontamination procedures. Caving events well outside the
affected region have been cancelled or curtailed. This has caused
economic fallout in neighboring communities that support these events
with lodging, food, supplies and tourist opportunities.
The effect is both national and international. The USFWS
decontamination protocol advisory is nationwide. Cavers in the west are
puzzled as to why this affects them. National Cave Rescue Commission
organizers are struggling to find a location for their annual intensive
weeklong rescue trainings. Professors of cave sciences at our
institutions of higher learning are concerned about the interruption of
their cave field studies, and their undergraduate and graduate students
involved in areas other than the study of bats.
This summer, the NSS is honored to host the 15th International
Congress on Speleology in Kerrville, Texas. Nearly 1,400 people from
almost 50 countries and virtually every state are registered for the
world's premier speleological event, which takes place every four
years. The U.S. is the only country to now host two of the Congresses.
Pre and post-Congress field camps provide international visitors the
opportunity to see some of North America's finest caves and caving
regions. Due to WNS, many of these trips have been cancelled or
curtailed, and strict management of gear and decontamination protocols
have been implemented for the entire event.
While the confirmed bat mortalities associated with WNS have
``only'' spread to the Virginias, the effects of management decisions
on cavers, scientific researchers, other cave and mine visitors, and
related economic fallout is already nationwide. All of these speak to
the urgency of you acting quickly and comprehensively to address the
The NSS has been actively involved in the WNS investigation since
the beginning. Working closely with the NY Department of Environmental
Conservation, and later Vermont Fish and Wildlife, we closed our caves
and worked to develop a cohesive and collaborative public message. Our
members have been particularly active in the northeast in fieldwork
helping to determine the geographic extent of WNS, helping with bat
counts, and other field work.
In March of 2008, the NSS Board of Governors created the WNS
Liaison and appointed me as its WNS Liaison to act as a single point of
contact with the emerging science and management effort. As Liaison, I
have participated in the major conferences of scientists and wildlife
managers, webinars, numerous conference calls, and task forces over the
past fifteen months, and communicate information and developments from
We created an extremely active website at http://www.caves.org/WNS/
index.htm. It tracks WNS developments, policies, research, and media
coverage, and provides education and outreach tools to our members, the
public, and agencies about WNS and how to prevent its spread.
In June of 2008, we helped underwrite the first Science Strategy
conference in Albany, NY, and participate in the proceedings. The need
for immediate research funding was paramount, and we created a WNS
Rapid Response Fund to help. To date we have raised over $55,000 and
funded five critical projects.
In April of this year, the NSS Board of Governors adopted a
comprehensive WNS Policy Statement, which is attached for your
information. In it, we ask our members and grottos to take the lead in
reaching out to non-organized and unaffiliated cavers, as they are
``out of the loop'' in terms of ready mechanisms for communication
about WNS. To that end, we created an information brochure that can be
downloaded from our website, copied and distributed. It is being used
widely, and we were just complimented to receive a request from the
National Park Service to use its copy and design for their brochure on
WNS. It is also attached for your information.
Indeed, an NSS study in the 1980's estimated that only about 5% of
cave visitation is by organized cavers. Camp, scout, church, and other
youth groups and outing clubs, plus a host of locals and the general
public make up the majority of cave visitors. Many of these individuals
seek out local cavers through our grottos to learn about safe caving
techniques, basic cave science, and to gain access. These relationships
are critical to effective dissemination of WNS information and to the
protection not only of bats, but all other cave resources.
Our Views Regarding the Current Scientific Understanding of WNS
Although a new species of fungus is implicated in the massive bat
die-offs, we still haven't answered the basic question of whether it is
the primary pathogen or an opportunistic one. As outlined in the
science strategy priorities last year in Albany, we know the bats are
dying of starvation, emerging early from hibernation emaciated and
marked by noted physical damage and marked behavioral changes.
In the absence of significant government funding, several of the
NSS-funded projects are designed to help get at the answer of why the
bats are starving: are they entering hibernation without sufficient
quantity or quality of stored fats? Are they consuming more stored
energy upon arousal than normal? Are bats affected with WNS
immunocompromised? These studies are jointly funded with others,
including Bat Conservation International and university funds. While
fall and winter sampling is done, laboratory analysis is not complete,
and results are not expected until the fall.
The NSS was the sole funder of a massive sediment sampling project,
collecting nearly 1000 samples in nearly 30 eastern states, looking to
see if the suspect fungus is ubiquitous to the background cave and mine
environment. Sampling was coordinated with state and federal biologists
already doing the biennial endangered Indiana bat surveys this winter,
but dozens of cavers trained in sterile collection protocols, provided
additional samples from much more geographically diverse sites.
Analysis of these samples will help determine one of the
fundamental questions: is the fungus the cause or a symptom? If the
fungus is already present, then something else is happening to allow it
to take hold. If it's already present, then efforts to contain it via
decontamination and limiting human access to sites may be moot.
The samples are waiting to be analyzed by the USGS National
Wildlife Health Center laboratory in Madison, Wisconsin. We have
learned that the analysis has been funded by the USFWS, which is good.
However, Congress should understand that it took private funding to
initiate and carry out the fieldwork in a timely fashion. Without it,
we would need to wait another year to even begin the work.
Further, the committees should be aware that the government
structure for receiving funds wouldn't work, and that we used a fiscal
agent to pass the funds through to accomplish the work.
Other key questions remain about how the fungus is transmitted.
While there is general agreement that it is passed bat to bat as the
primary method of transmission, we do not know if the caves or mines
themselves are infected and can transmit the fungus. Further, while
most media stories covering the cave and mine closures include a line
about suspected human transmission, there is no proof to date, or
studies to establish proof. The lone circumstantial evidence comes from
a cave visitation date base that documents some caver movement from WNS
affected sites in NY to two newly affected sites in PA and WVA. The
same and other cavers have visited numerous other sites in many
states--notably WVA, VA, TN, KY, GA, and IN, yet no WNS has been
observed in those sites. We do not know if there is an incubation
period for the fungus, or if there are other possible transmission
We also don't know if the current decontamination protocols are
effective. They take a universal precaution approach. Certainly, they
are onerous and inconvenient for caver and field researcher alike. In
the case of ropes, webbing, harnesses, and other load-bearing textiles,
what may kill or contain the fungus also weakens or destroys the
material, rendering it unsafe for use. To that end, the NSS has also
funded current research through Northern Kentucky University testing a
variety of decontamination techniques on these materials, which will
then be stress tested by the manufacturers. This will lead to having
both effective and safe protocols that will permit access for bat
researchers and cavers alike to multi-level vertical mines and caves.
Much research is also needed into how the fungus itself and how it
affects the bats. We don't know how to effectively contain it, kill it,
or limit its spread. Can we create a vaccine? Can we identify the
characteristics of survivors? Will geographic or other natural barriers
become evident as WNS spreads? We simply don't know, but need to know
One of the things we, as cavers, cave scientists, and cave
conservationists do know, however, is that caves are delicate
ecosystems. While we focus on bats, we must remember that caves are not
just about bats. Many other significant and endangered species live in
caves, some as rare as in only one cave.
With no light to provide energy to the ecosystem, energy must be
brought it through other mechanisms. Bats are a primary, if not the
primary mechanism in many caves. Bat guano provides a source of
nutrients for many other species of cave life. Other fauna also bring
in energy, primarily to the cave ``twilight zone.''
Water is another primary source of energy and nutrients, but also a
source of private and public water, and a critical point to understand
in terms of potential WNS mitigation activities under consideration. If
we move to high-risk containment strategies, such as fungicides,
biological controls, or sealing sites, what other parts of the
ecosystem might we affect?
We must do the research to test mitigation strategies thoroughly
before widespread application. Science must inform our responses, and
this science needs to happen as soon as possible.
Our Views on Current Federal, State, local and private responses to its
Most importantly, let me first state that the people I have met--
whether federal, state, private, or higher education-related--have been
doing yeoman's work on a primarily ad-hoc basis. Many work outside the
constraints of their jobs and funding sources, demonstrating their
passion to do what they can to figure out just what WNS is, how it can
be stopped, and what we can do to save our bats and their critical
place in our ecosystem. They deserve your utmost gratitude, and now
your concentrated support.
As mentioned above and in our attachments, initial responses were
by private and state entities. Responses grew on an ad hoc basis. While
some federal personnel were involved, no real federal organization was
evident until October of 2008. Funding streams and bureaucratic
structure were clearly not set up and able to respond in a timely
fashion. The State Wildlife Grant (SWG) mechanism is regionally
competitive by design. Indeed, the fact that the title of today's
hearing reflects a regional problem, rather than the national problem
that it is, is telling.
To most experienced cavers, government responses have been
inconsistent, contradictory, and at times counter-productive. Current
government responses have favored closing caves on public lands to
visitation, presumably to retard spreading the fungus by the human
vector. While an apparently obvious reaction, the impact on the spread
of WNS will likely not be conclusive, because of the numerous other
visitations by uninformed or unaffiliated persons as described
previously. Decontamination protocols and guidelines for determining
what equipment may be contaminated seem arbitrary, overly broad, and
In the private sector, the NSS has responded by closing some of its
caves. So, too have numerous related cave conservancies--the
Northeastern Cave Conservancy, the Middle Atlantic Karst Conservancy,
the West Virginia Cave Conservancy, and the Southeast Cave
Conservancy--and The Nature Conservancy on some of its properties.
At the state level and federal level, current government responses
vary widely and are confusing to the caving community, and probably
other cave and mine visitors, including gemologists, rock hounds,
geocachers, and scientists and students study other aspects of caves
than bats. For example, the USFWS advisory call for a voluntary
moratorium on cave-related activity in a 13-state region. It also calls
for nationwide implementation of decontamination protocols. The USFS
has closed all its caves and mines in 30 states. Several National Parks
have closed some of their caves and either have already adopted or are
considering closures well outside the affected region. National River
areas within and without the USFWS advisory region have adopted
closures. States have taken even a wider variety of steps, all of which
is confusing and reads as a lack of coordination.
Cavers knowledgeable of cave morphology and bat usage wonder about
many caves covered by the advisories and closures, such as non-bat
caves and caves that completely flood. Further, as cave
conservationists attempting to protect the entire cave resource, taking
the most experienced cavers out of the loop of interfacing with the
unorganized public seems counterproductive. Some people will continue
to visit caves, increasing the risk of vandalism, destruction of
wildlife, and even additional unnecessary rescues.
The decisions to close everything except commercial caves strikes
many as political, and not biologically based. Many local NSS Grottos
have strong relationships with their local show caves, helping with
conservation efforts, public education, exploration and management,
promotion, and even cleaning. While we recognize the economic
considerations of government and privately owned show caves, good
science should drive closure decisions.
We recognize that closure decisions--including our own--have been
essentially prophylactic in nature. However, where we go from here
needs to be guided by science. Our call to you today is to support a
comprehensive national research program to thoroughly research the
underlying WNS mechanisms and develop sound management solutions.
Our Views on Needed Federal Actions to Further Comprehend and Contain
this Unparalleled Crisis.
We think the first thing that needs to be done is to recognize this
is a national, not regional problem. Its impacts are already being felt
across the country, and beyond.
We believe a national plan for addressing WNS, with a supporting
bureaucratic mechanism in place to coordinate funding and management,
Immediate, significant new funding is needed. Others will testify
to the appropriate amounts and specific needs, but they are
We also need to recognize the seasonal nature of bat research--that
the hibernation and summer cycles only permit certain types of research
during limited windows of time. WNS will continue to be spread quickly
by the bats. We need to have a mechanism for quick delivery of
While some limited federal funding has been put toward WNS, it has
been woefully inadequate. The recently awarded State Wildlife Grant
($940,000 over two years), will be spread among 11-13 states over two
years, and do little more than support current staff time for
monitoring and surveillance. This is important, but doesn't address the
critical research needs described above, and will take a while to
actually get into the field.
The letter sent by various Members of Congress to Interior
Secretary Salazar requested release of emergency funding. To the extent
that is possible in the remaining federal fiscal year, it would be
helpful and timely. However, our understanding is that this will take
away from other potential uses. New money is needed, perhaps through
emergency supplemental legislation.
We strongly believe that funding needs to be directly available to
the various entities working on WNS. Currently, the approach has been
virtually all through the USFWS. Direct appropriations to the USGS,
USFS, and the National Science Foundation--made more readily available
to university researchers would be a significant improvement. From our
view, it would also ensure a balanced and multi-disciplinary approach,
and have more people working more quickly to solve this problem--a key
We need to have the research questions about the fungus, its
transmission, and potential treatments answered. How quickly will it or
can it spread to the major bat colonies of middle America, and Texas,
New Mexico, and beyond. How do we ensure that our management approaches
are guided by sound science? How do we ensure that we consider the
entirety of cave ecosystems, and the larger environment, with our
We also need to recognize the critical public education necessary.
One thing we have learned at the NSS is what you think about WNS
depends greatly on your vantage point. Those of us who live in the
northeast have seen the ravages for several years. The Virginias and
Pennsylvania are in the early stages. Those beyond--in Ohio, Indiana,
Kentucky, Tennessee, don't know what to expect yet. Those much farther
west can do much to prepare--to obtain baseline data on bats and
hibernacula that we found lacking when WNS hit in the east.
Time is our enemy. We've enacted preventive closures to allow time
for science to catch up. We need significant federal resources now, and
they can make a difference. We are along the path to answers in some
areas, and the sooner we get them, the more bats and areas of the
country we can protect. The sooner we understand successful mitigation
strategies, the sooner we can prevent further spread.
None of us wants to see the bat populations decimated and the
subsequent dramatic increase in insect populations, which would lead to
an increased use of pesticides. The economic and environmental costs
would be tremendous.
It's not necessary. If scientists can quickly determine that,
indeed, the fungus is the culprit, energies can quickly focus on the
The National Speleological Society has been proactive in
researching the disease and attempting to halt its spread, and we will
continue to offer our knowledge and resources as cave explorers,
scientists, managers, and conservationists to fighting WNS.
The situation is urgent. We ask for your help in providing
immediate and significant funding for WNS research, surveillance, and
mitigation. We ask for your help in creating a national plan--a
comprehensive national research program--to address WNS. We ask for
your help in educating and persuading your colleagues, particularly
those who appropriate money, as to the urgency of the need.
We love caves, and we love bats. Others have spoken to the role of
bats as voracious insectivores. Bats have also contributed to our
knowledge of other sciences and medicine. Bat research has enabled
advancements in sonar, vaccine development, blood coagulation, and
artificial insemination, just to name a few. We need bats. Now, they
[NOTE: Attachments have been retained in the Committee's official
Response to questions submitted for the record by Peter Youngbaer
Questions from Ranking Republican Member Henry E. Brown, Jr. (R-SC)
(1) Mr. Youngbaer, if you were able to create a vaccine for WNS, how
would you effectively administer it to potentially affected bat
Dear Congressman Brown,
First of all, thank you for the opportunity to present to your
committee on this important issue.
In terms of how to effectively administer a vaccine, let me couch
my response with the caveat that I am, first and foremost, a caver. I
am not a scientist, and others are more expertly prepared to respond
perhaps more technically to your question.
That said, I have participated in a number of scientific and
wildlife management meetings as the White Nose Syndrome Liaison of the
National Speleological Society. I am also directly involved in the
ownership and management of a number of caves, including those with
WNS-affected bat populations.
Based on what I know about caves--some of them quite immense
systems--I would think the most efficient vaccine delivery system would
be through the food supply. My understanding from some of the
scientific discussions that have occurred is that there is a precedent
for an oral rabies vaccine for bats that was administered by treating
their food. I'm not sure exactly what the food was, but mealworms are a
common item used to rehabilitate bats.
There is also the possibility of an aerial spray at a cave or mine
entrance, but that may affect other species, such as birds, who also
frequent the entrances of some caves.
In addition to the delivery system, choosing the proper sites must
come into consideration. My view is that it is neither practical nor
affordable to attempt to vaccinate every bat. Rather, targeting
colonies that are endangered or threatened species would be one
priority. That is, species protection.
It may also be an effective strategy for WNS containment. By
properly identifying the front line of WNS advancement, and
understanding the flight and migration limitations of the affected
species, bats in a buffer zone could be vaccinated with the aim of
halting the spread at that point.
Simultaneous with any vaccination strategy, we must also target
research into learning whether any surviving bats in high mortality
colonies have any unique genetic or other resistant characteristics,
features, or behaviors that are permitting them to survive. We have not
had the resources to focus on investigating survivors at this point,
but that research is traditional and critical to understanding any
resistant members of species and then being able to focus on
encouraging those bat populations to grow and rebuild the lost
While vaccination may stop WNS from affecting certain bats, and
could also be an effective containment strategy, understanding why and
how some bats do survive is perhaps more important long-range.
(2) Mr. Youngbaer, you correctly remind us that many other species,
other than bats, live in caves and mines. Have they been
impacted by the White-nose syndrome?
To my knowledge, there are no other species that have shown any
susceptibility to White Nose Syndrome. After several years now of WNS
in caves and mines, and the large number of people--researchers and
cavers--who have been in these sites, one would expect any other
affected species to have been noted by now. WNS appears to be bat-
Whatever mitigation strategies we end up applying, we do need to
keep the health and survivability of the other species that share the
cave environment in mind, including, as I mentioned in my testimony,
some other rare and endangered species.
Again, thank you very much for the opportunity to testify.
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you very much, Mr. Youngbaer, for
highlighting the national scope of this disease.
And finally, Dr. Kunz, welcome to the Subcommittee and you
can begin your testimony.
STATEMENT OF THOMAS KUNZ, Ph.D., DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR ECOLOGY
AND CONSERVATION BIOLOGY, PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY, BOSTON
Mr. Kunz. Thank you. Good morning, Chairwoman Bordallo,
Chairman Grijalva, Ranking Member Cassidy and Bishop, and
Members of the Subcommittee.
My name is Thomas Kunz. I am Professor of Biology and
Director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology at
In over 45 years of conducting research on bats in the
Northeastern United States and the Midwest and the West, this
is one of the most devastating conditions I have ever observed.
It is unprecedented in my lifetime and in documented record. We
are witnessing one of the most precipitous declines of wildlife
in North America.
Today my testimony will address three items. I am going to
briefly summarize what we know and what we don't know. We have
obviously heard from various speakers today some of this. I
will repeat this as sort of the clean-up hitter here. I want to
highlight the ecological and economic importance of
insectivorous bats, and provide a rough estimate of the amount
of Federal funding we believe is needed to address this issue,
not only in research but monitoring, and to provide the needed
information that managers can make sound decisions.
I want to, first of all, compliment my previous panel
members from Federal agencies and non-government organizations.
With the limited amount of funding that all of us have had to
do the research, it is quite amazing that we have learned quite
a bit, and I want to cut to the chase here to tell you a little
bit about what we do know. Very brief, this is spelled out more
directly in my written testimony.
Obviously, there are unprecedented numbers of bats that
have died, ranging from New Hampshire to West Virginia. It is a
newly described fungus. We know this. It grows on ears and wing
membranes. The fungus grows optimally at five to 14 degrees
Celsius. The histopathological studies that have been done
demonstrate that the fungus does penetrate the skin of affected
bats. They are genetically identical isolates of this fungus
collected over a wide range of caves. Hibernating bats have
severely depleted fat reserves by mid-winter, and they show low
concentrations of what is known as polyunsaturated fatty acids
in their diets, and I will come back to that.
They have atypical high frequencies of arousals during
winter. Many of them have atypical flight behavior during the
winter as we have heard, flying outside in snowy weather. They
have a reduced capacity to arouse when their fat reserves are
depleted. They have a compromised immune system. They have
ulcerated and necrotic and scarred wing membranes, at least
those that survived the winter. Preliminary lab studies have
indicated or suggested that there is no evidence of
contaminants that have at least been examined, and there is no
evidence of bacterial or viral pathogens.
Critical research is needed in order to establish the
etiology of White-Nose Syndrome, research and monitoring are
What we don't know are the following:
First of all, there are uncertainties in all of these
questions. The Geomyces fungus, we don't really know whether it
is the primary cause of mortality, and if it is, we don't know
the mode of action and how it is killing bats. We don't know
the geographic distribution of the fungus. The fungus, if it is
not the primary cause of White-Nose, what is it? The secondary
manifestation is--there is evidence for that.
Are there pathogens that we haven't identified either
affecting directly or indirectly mortality? Are contaminants
that we haven't really identified either causing indirect or
direct mortality? Causing premature depletion of fat reserves
is unclear, and why can't bats mount an effective immune
system? And are some individuals genetically or immunologically
resistant to White-Nose? There are others that I won't have
time to go into detail here.
We should care about bats as we have heard before. Little
brown bat, for example, can eat up to, in one night, 60 medium-
sized moths, over a thousand mosquito-sized insects. In one
season we are talking about one bat eating up to 10,000
mosquito-sized insects, or I am sorry--10,000 moths or 180,000
mosquito-sized insects, just one bat in one year.
In summary, I just want to say regarding funding needs we
have identified 10 major research topics. Research needs are
greatest in the first few years. We request appropriation for
supplementary funding in the stimulus bill but also request new
funding, new appropriations for subsequent years, in Fiscal
Year 2010 to 2014.
Our best estimate at this point ranges from about 10
million to 17 million dollars over a five-year period.
Madam Chairwoman and Mr. Chairman, I want to again express
my thanks for being invited here. We have a major crisis at our
hand. We need to identify the causes and consequences of this
critical disease, and I totally support a national plan to
address these issues.
Thank you very much.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Kunz follows:]
Statement of Thomas H. Kunz, Professor of Biology and
Director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation, Boston University
Chairwoman Bordallo, Chairman Grijalva, and Members of the
Subcommittees, I am Thomas H. Kunz, Professor of Biology and Director
of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Boston University.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to testify concerning White-
Nose Syndrome, a devastating disease of hibernating bats that has
caused the most precipitous decline of North American wildlife in
My testimony will (1) briefly summarize what we know and don't know
about White-Nose Syndrome based on research and monitoring over the
past three years, (2) highlight the ecological and economic importance
of insectivorous bats to healthy ecosystems, and (3) provide an
estimate of the amount of federal funding that will be needed over the
next 5 years to address unanswered questions in efforts to identify
causes and consequences of this emerging wildlife disease so that we
can provide critical scientific information needed for making sound
Background and Context
In recent years, bats have become increasingly subjected to a
variety of anthropogenic perturbations, as they are being exposed to
industrial chemicals, water pollution, air pollution, light pollution,
habitat alteration, deforestation, and direct impacts of wind energy
facilities. Several species of bats threatened by these and other human
activities face a growing risk of extinction. In particular, alteration
of natural habitats and subsequently replacement by agricultural
monocultures and suburban sprawl, introductions of exotic plant
species, human disturbances to caves and mines, and recorded decreases
in some aerial and aquatic insect species compromise the ability of
bats to successfully feed, reproduce, and hibernate.
Throughout the world, bat species provide important ecosystem
services by pollinating flowers, dispersing seeds, and consuming
insects, thus playing central roles in the maintenance and regeneration
of forests and other ecosystems following natural and anthropogenic
disturbances. Insectivorous bats, in particular, play critical roles in
many ecosystems by suppressing insect populations in both natural and
As we have already learned from others who have testified, White-
Nose Syndrome has infected six species of insect-eating bats in the
northeastern and southern U.S. (Appendix 1), causing declines
approaching 100% in some populations, and estimated losses have
exceeded one million bats over the past three years. If the spread of
WNS is not slowed or halted, further losses could lead to the
extinction of entire species and could more than quadruple the bat
species that are federally listed as endangered in the U.S. Such losses
alone are expected to have unprecedented consequences for ecosystem
health throughout North America, with potentially extraordinary
Current, Federal, State, Local and Private Responses to the Spread of
Federal responses to WNS have been slow, to say the least, not for
lack of existing USFWS and USGS staff investing their energies to
encourage research and monitoring, and to facilitate and conduct
research and monitoring, but largely because of bureaucratic issues
relating to the timely release of funds to an emergency situation. One
impediment, in particular, to the timely release of funds is the
federal requirement for matching non-federal funds, under the State
Wildlife Grants Program, before awards can be made. WNS also is issue
of national importance and should be on the agenda of other federal
funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, National
Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, and Department of Energy,
each of which have a long history of supporting research and monitoring
studies of national importance. A reallocation of funds from the
existing 2009 FY budget (including funds from the Stimulus Package)
would seem prudent, but a new source of funding for research and
monitoring on WNS should be allocated starting in FY 2010.
State responses to WNS have played an important role in supporting
a small amount of research and early monitoring. Most notably, New York
State, Vermont, and Pennsylvania, within the region of WNS affected
locations in the northeastern U.S., have been the major contributors to
research and monitoring, although they have not had sufficient funds to
support the type of research and monitoring that is needed in response
to early signs of WNS. Due to lack of state funds for travel, many
qualified state wildlife biologists were limited in the monitoring work
they have been able to accomplish, or to participate in Science
Strategy Meetings or other conferences where WNS was on the agenda over
the past three years.
Local and Private Responses
By most measures, the rapid responses of non-government agencies
and private organizations have made it possible to conduct most of the
research that has been conducted to date. Moreover, these resources
were used to organize two important Science Strategy Meetings that
identified questions, hypotheses, and research needs. At least three
international societies--the American Society of Mammalogists and the
North American Society for Bat Research--and two international
conferences--the International Congress of Speleology (Kerrville, TX)
and the International Bat Migration Symposium (Berlin, Germany), over
the past two years have organized and sponsored special sessions on
In response to this developing crisis, two Science Strategy
Meetings on White-Nose Syndrome (WNS) have been convened in the past
year--the first on June 9-11, 2008, in Albany, New York to identify
questions, hypotheses, and research needs related to the increased
prevalence and spread of WNS, and another on May 26-27, 2009 in Austin,
Texas to review what we know and don't know about WNS, and to identify
questions, hypotheses and research needs to address unanswered
questions. Both of these meetings were funded largely from non-
government sources. Participation in these meetings by state and
federal staff were funded by their respective agencies.
Over the past three years, some progress has been made to answer
several key questions based on available funding. However, given
limited funds available for research and monitoring, and the current
rate of spread of WNS since it was first discovered, we can expect this
disease in the very near future to advance into regions of the U.S.
where some of the largest hibernating bat colonies are known. Many of
these hibernating colonies at potential risk are located in southern
and mid-western states, and include major populations of three
federally listed endangered species, with adverse ecological and
economic consequences extending well beyond the northeastern U.S. WNS
should be of national concern, and emergency funds should be allocated
from federal agencies.
Federal Actions to Further Comprehend and Contain this Unparalleled
To address the crisis of WNS spreading close to regions of major
hibernating colonies in the U.S., at our most recent Science Strategy
Meeting this past week in Austin, Texas, the participating scientists
made a call to the Federal Government to establishment a national
comprehensive research program to identify underlying mechanisms
causing WNS that are needed to develop sound management solutions. With
the availability of funding to support needed research, we are staged
to move forward with the advantage of hindsight of what we know and the
foresight of what we need to know to address this emerging disease.
Current Scientific Understanding of White-Nose Syndrome
What We Know
Unprecedented numbers of dead bats attributed to WNS have
been reported from hibernacula in nine states--ranging from New
Hampshire to West Virginia.
A newly described white fungus (Geomyces sp.) grows on
the nose, ears, and wing membranes of bats affected by WNS.
The fungus associated with WNS grows optimally at
temperatures characteristic of most hibernacula--between 5 and 14 C.
Histopathological studies have demonstrated that this
fungus penetrates the skin and wing membranes of bats affected with
Genetically identical isolates of this fungus have been
collected from affected bats located in widely dispersed hibernacula in
the northeastern United States, suggesting that it is a plausible
causative agent of WNS.
Hibernating bats affected by WNS have severely depleted
fat reserves by mid-winter.
Hibernating bats affected by WNS show low concentrations
of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Hibernating bats affected by WNS show atypical high
frequencies of arousal from torpor, especially in early winter.
Hibernating bats affected by WNS exhibit atypical flight
behavior during winter and often fly outside hibernacula.
Hibernating bats affected by WNS have a reduced capacity
to arouse from deep torpor after fat reserves have been depleted.
Hibernating bats affected by WNS show compromised immune
Bats that survive hibernation often have ulcerated,
necrotic and scarred wing membranes.
Preliminary results suggest that concentrations of
chlorinated hydrocarbons, pyrethroids, and heavy metals are not
markedly elevated in bats thus far examined, nor have known bacterial
or viral pathogens been discovered.
To establish the etiology of WNS and to make sound management
decisions, research and monitoring are needed to determine whether this
cold-loving fungus is a direct cause or a secondary effect of this
devastating disease. The recent spread of WNS to the south and west of
the epicenter near Albany, in New York State, poses a severe threat to
other hibernating species that form some of the largest colonies of
hibernating bats in North America.
What We Don't Know
Is the newly described cold-loving fungus associated with
WNS the primary cause of mortality in hibernating bats? If so, what is
the mode of action of the fungus in killing bats?
What is the geographic distribution of the fungus
associated with WNS?
If the fungus is not the cause of WNS, is this condition
a secondary manifestation of other underlying factor or factors? If so,
what are these factors?
Are pathogens (bacteria or viruses) a direct or indirect
cause of mortality in bats affected by WNS?
Are contaminants a direct or indirect cause of WNS
related bat mortality?
What causes the premature depletion of fat reserves in
bats affected by WNS?
Can bats mount affective immune responses to the fungus
associated with WNS or to other potential pathogens or contaminants?
Are some bats genetically or immunologically resistant to
WNS and thus can survive infection?
How does WNS affect bats at maternity colonies?
What is the mode of transmission of WNS?
Can we predict geographic limits to the spread of WNS?
Can we slow or stop the spread of WNS?
Can we reduce the mortality of bats affected by WNS?
Can some individuals survive WNS, followed by a
subsequent population recovery? If so, can population recovery be
Why Should We Care?
Each of the six species of bats that are affected by WNS are
obligate insectivores--many of which feed on insect pests of
agriculture and garden crops, and at times these may include insect
species that pose risks to human health. The enormous number and
biomass of insects that would have been eaten annually by the estimated
1 million bats that have since died in the northeastern U.S. emphasizes
the extraordinary value of insectivorous bats to the normal function
and health of both the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in which they
During the warm months of the year, one little brown bat (Myotis
lucifugus), a species that has been most affected by WNS, is known to
consume insects ranging from one-half to its entire body weight in a
single night. Extrapolated to entire colonies and populations, this
level of insect consumption provides an important ecosystem service to
human kind, which in turn can reduce the use of pesticides often used
to kill insects.
For example, assuming that, on average, one little brown bat that
weighs 7 grams eats only half its body weight each night (3.5 grams)
from April 15 through October 15 (180 nights), this would amount to the
consumption of 3.5 grams x 180 nights, or 630 grams of insects annually
during these warm months. If we multiply 630 grams of insects that can
be consumed by one little brown bat times 1 million bats that have
already died from WNS, this would amount to 630,000,000 grams of
insects that would not have been eaten by bats. When the latter value
is converted from metric to English units, this amounts to about
1,388,912 pounds or 694 tons of insects. This biomass is equivalent to
the weight of approximately fifty-six M113 fully-equipped armored
personnel carriers, twenty-three M3A3 Bradley fighting vehicles,
seventeen fully-loaded 18-wheelers, 6 female blue whales, or 5,555,648
quarter pounders--take your pick for comparison.
The level of nightly consumption by one little brown bat would be
equivalent to a 150-pound teenage boy eating approximately 300 quarter-
pounders. Translated to the number of insects that would not be eaten
by one little brown bat in your backyard on a given night, it amounts
to the equivalent of 60 medium-sized moths or over 1,000 mosquito-sized
insects. On average, this means that approximately 10,800 medium-sized
moths or approximately 180,000 mosquito-sized insects each year would
not be eaten by just one bat.
Although no studies have been conducted to assess the ecological or
economic impact of insectivorous bats on ecosystem in the northeastern
U.S., Cleveland et al. (2006) conducted a study in south-central Texas,
and have shown that within an 8 county region, the quantity of insects
eaten on an annual basis by an estimated 1.5 million Brazilian free-
tailed bats saves farmers an average of $741,000 per year in reduced
applications of pesticides needed to control cotton bollworm on cotton
Summary and Conclusions
To date, a handful of university, state, federal laboratories have
become engaged in research on WNS--largely funded by non-government
organizations. Apart from characterizing the fungus associated with
WNS, many questions remain unanswered. For example, although the
psychrophilic fungus may turn out to be the ``smoking gun,'' it is
unclear whether this syndrome results from various anthropogenic
conditions that have reached an environmental threshold. Regardless of
whether the cause of WNS is the result of anthropogenic or natural
conditions, it has become increasingly clear that emergency funds from
the federal government are needed to identify the exact causes and
consequences in time to implement mitigation and to prevent its spread
to other species and geographic regions.
Many questions remain to be answered. For example, have individuals
of some bat species evolved resistance to the causative agent of WNS?
Given the extraordinarily slow reproductive rates of most bat species
(e.g., typically one or two offspring born each year), can
significantly decimated populations recover? Some highly gregarious
hibernating species with limited geographic ranges (e.g., Indiana bat,
gray bat, Virginia and Ozark big-eared bats) face the threat of
extinction in the coming years if WNS continues to spread
geographically. Given the important role that insectivorous species
play as predators and as prey in balancing the structure and function
of temperate ecosystems, what ecological and economic impacts will
their loss have on both natural and human altered ecosystems? Urgent
attention and concerted efforts by the Federal Government are needed to
develop a national plan to support research that will help identify the
cause and consequences of WNS, and to mitigate the rapid decline in
numbers and anticipated spread throughout the geographic ranges of
species at risk.
Anthony, E.L.P. and T.H. Kunz. 1977. Feeding ecology of the little
brown bat, Myotis lucifugus, in southern New Hampshire, 58:
Blehert, D.S., A.C. Hicks, M. Behr, C.U. Meteyer, B.M. Berlowski-Zier,
E.L. Buckles, J.T.H. Coleman, S.R. Darling, A. Gargas, R.
Niver, J.C. Okoniewski, R.J. Rudd, and W.B. Stone. 2009. Bat
White-Nose Syndrome: An emerging fungal pathogen? Science
Calisher, C.H., J.E., Childs, H.E. Field, K.V. Holmes and T. Schountz.
2006. Bats: Important reservoir hosts of emerging viruses.
Clinical Microbiological Reviews, 19: 531-545.
Cleveland, C.J., J.D. Frank, P. Federico, I. Gomez, T.G. Hallam, J.
Horn, J. Lopez, G.F. McCracken, R.A. Medellin, A. Moreno-V, C.
Sansone, J.K. Westbrook, and T.H. Kunz. 2006. Economic value of
the pest control service provided by Brazilian free-tailed bat
in south-central Texas. Frontiers of Ecology and the
Environment, 4: 238-243.
Desprez-Loustau, M.L., C. Robin, M. Buee, R. Courtecuisse, J. Garbaye,
F. Suffert, I. Sache, and D.M. Rizzo. 2007. The fungal
dimension of biological invasions. Trends in Ecology and
Jones, G., D.S. Jacobs T.H. Kunz, M.R. Willig and P.A. Racey. 2009.
Carpe noctem: The importance of bats as bioindicators.
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Chicago Press, Chicago.
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pregnancy and lactation in free-ranging little brown bats
(Myotis lucifugus). Physiological Zoology, 62: 804-818.
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Albany, New York.
Appendix 1. Names of six species of hibernating, cave-dwelling bat
species (out of nine) in the northeastern U.S. affected by WNS.
Little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus)
Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis)
Small footed bat (Myotis leibii)
Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis)--U.S. Endangered Species
Tricolored bat (Perimyotis subflavus)
Big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus)
Other hibernating cave-dwelling bat species likely to be affected
by WNS if this disease spreads further south and westward from the
Gray bat (Myotis grisescens)--U.S. Endangered Species
Virginia big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii virginianus)--U.S.
Ozark big-eared bat (Cornorhinus townsendii ingens)--U.S.
[GRAPHIC(S) NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Response to questions submitted for the record by Dr. Thomas Kunz,
Director, Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology, Professor of
Biology, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts
Questions from Ranking Republican Member Henry E. Brown, Jr. (R-SC)
(1) How much federal money is now required to effectively address the
Following lengthy discussions with colleagues from academia and
state and federal wildlife biologists, we propose a budget of
$55,875,000 over a 5-year period (FY10 through FY14). This amount is a
minimum estimate of the direct cost needed to address White-Nose
Syndrome. This budget only includes budgets for DOI (USFWS and USGS)
and NPS. Other agencies that could potentially contribute to this
budget include USDA (USFS), DOD, DOE, EPA, NSF, and NIH.
(2) Are we finding the disease in caves or mines that are not exposed
to human activity?
This is an excellent question that we are currently addressing with
funds provided by the National Speleological Society, in collaboration
with USGS (National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI). To date,
sediment and soil samples have been collected from over 200 caves and
mines in the eastern US. Samples are currently being analyzed from
these sites, and we hope to have an answer to this question by the end
of the summer.
(3) Has the federal government taken sufficient steps to address the
serious and growing problem of the White-nose syndrome? What
additional steps need to be taken immediately?
USFWS is the primary federal agency that has taken steps to address
this growing problem. Over the past 2 years, they have allocated
approximately $5 million, mostly for management, with limited funding
available for critical research. $950,000 of this amount was allocated
for the State Wildlife Grant Program, and was to be distributed to 11
participating states in the northeastern US. However, it is my
understanding that these funds are not yet available. Because release
of these funds requires matching funds from non-government sources,
this severely restricts who will be able to use these funds, and thus
extends the time before research and monitoring studies can be
conducted. Following the recent joint congressional subcommittee
hearing, USFWS announced a funding competition from the FY09 budget,
with proposals due July 15, and announcements of awards by September
30, 2009. $800,000 dollars are available through this program, but will
not require matching funds.
(4) Should all commercial caves and mines be closed to help stop the
spread of this disease and who has the authority to mandate
I don't believe that all commercial caves and mines should be
closed to the public, partly because there are many such structures
that do not house either hibernating, transient, or summer colonies of
bats. However, I do believe that all caves and mines that house bats at
any time of year should be closed to the public until such time as we
have a better understanding of how the fungus is transmitted. If the
fungus is spread by human activities, cave closure could reduce the
likelihood of introducing the fungus to previously unaffected caves and
mines. Given that bats most likely spread the fungus, closing caves and
mines to human traffic would not stop the spread of the fungus to areas
outside its existing range. Authority for closing caves would involve
private owners, non-government agencies, and private and federal
agencies responsible for their protection and management.
(5) Is the White-nose syndrome the direct result of climate change? If
yes, please justify this finding?
In my professional judgment, climate change is not the direct cause
of White-nose syndrome. However, climate change, along with other
conditions in our environment, such as increased use of potent
pesticides throughout the eastern U.S. to control gypsy moths (which
bats do not eat), and West Nile virus may compromise the immune system
of bats, making them more vulnerable to such exposure. Notwithstanding,
climate change may be a factor to which bats may not be able to adapt.
(6) It appears that the White-nose syndrome is similar to a cold-
loving fungus found in European countries. In those cases, bats
got the disease but are not dying of it. What have we learned
from the European experience?
Preliminary studies by European and American scientists suggest
that the fungus observed in Europe is very closely related to the
recently described Geomyces destructans in the US, suggesting that this
fungus may have been introduced near the epicenter of WNS in the
vicinity of Albany, NY.
(7) Several witnesses mentioned that the White-nose syndrome has
affected six species of insect-eating bats in the Northeastern
and Southern U.S. Are there bat species in this region, that
have not been affected by the disease and do we know why they
have been spared?
To date, six species of insect-eating bats known from six
northeastern states (New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts,
Connecticut, New Jersey), and three mid-Atlantic states (Pennsylvania,
Virginia, and West Virginia) have been affected by White-Nose Syndrome,
but to different degrees. The highly gregarious little brown bat has
been most severely affected--with losses up to 100% in some
hibernacula, and losses ranging from 70 to 100% in some maternity
roosts in the northeastern states. At least two other hibernating bat
species--Virginia long-eared bat and gray bat (both listed as
endangered and known to be at risk in the mid-Atlantic region)--can be
expected to show evidence of WNS in the winter of 2009-2010. One cave
in Virginia was identified in the winter of 2008-2009 as having bats
with WNS, and it is located within 6 miles of a major gray bat
hibernaculum. Given the rate of spread of WNS (ca 200 km per year) from
its epicenter in New York State in 2006, we would expect that gray bats
and Virginia long-eared will show symptoms of WNS in the winter of
2009-2010. Given the high mobility of flying bats and their tendency to
form swarming colonies in early autumn before they enter hibernation,
it is likely that WNS will spread rapidly into the South and Mid-West--
regions of the U.S. that support major hibernating colonies of Indiana
and gray bats, both of which are federally listed endangered species.
Three other bats species that have a continental scale distribution--
eastern red bat, hoary bat, silver-haired bat--are migratory tree-
roosting species that seldom interact with the hibernating species that
have been adversely affected by WNS.
Proposed Budget Justification for Research, Surveillance, and
Management of White-Nose Syndrome (WNS), FY10-14
Thomas H. Kunz, Ph.D.
Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology
Boston, MA 02215
E-mail: [email protected]
Submitted: June 30, 2009
Determine mode of transmission of Geomyces destructans
Funds are needed to establish whether and how and in what form the
fungus Geomyces destructans is transmitted from bat to bat and from
cave to cave. This information is critical for developing sound
intervention and/or management strategies.
Document the origin, ecology, and distribution of Geomyces destructans
Funds are needed to understand the ecology, origin and distribution
of Geomyces destructans in North America. This information is essential
for understanding where, when, and how this fungus may have been
introduced into the US, and how it its spread can be slowed or stopped.
Develop diagnostic tools for field identification of WNS
Funds are needed to develop field-based diagnostic tools for
researchers to design reliable experiments with the knowledge that bats
either are not or are infected--especially at early stages of
infection--and for use by state and federal agency personnel for
monitoring the spread of Geomyces destructans.
Assessment of immune responses of bats with and without WNS
Funds are needed to compare the immune system of bats that are
infected and unaffected by WNS. Thorough knowledge of the immune system
of bats is critical for understanding the epidemiology of WNS and also
for developing mitigation strategies.
Assess behavioral responses of bats with symptoms WNS
Funds are needed to assess the physiological responses of bats to
infections from Geomyces destructans. Knowledge of how bats respond
behaviorally to infection from white-nose syndrome (e.g. arouse more
frequently than normal, emigrate from infected hibernacula, transmit
fungal infections socially or by grooming) will be valuable for testing
alternative hypotheses for the cause of frequent winter arousals and
depletion of fat reserves.
Assess physiological responses of bats with symptoms of WNS
Funds are needed to quantify physiological responses of bats to
infections from Geomyces destructans, especially during hibernation. It
is expected that this knowledge will lead to be better understanding of
the underlying causes and consequences of infection from this fungus.
Assess epidemiology of WNS in the US
Funds are needed to develop epidemiological models of bats that
have been exposed to Geomyces destructans. Information needed for
making this assessment includes timing and rates of infection, and
rates of spread from single or multiple sites of origin. This
information will be needed to effectively manage bat populations
affected by WNS.
Assess demographic variables of bat species that are currently affected
and unaffected by WNS
Funds are requested to collect demographic variables such as
reproductive rates, growth rates, and survival rates of bats that are
affected by and not affected by WNS. This information is essential for
the development of population models (see below).
Develop demographic population models of bats at risk from WNS
Funds are requested for developing predictive models of species
that are affected by WNS and rates of spread among affected species,
based on demographic traits. This information is critical for
developing sound management strategies.
Identify and develop mitigation and possible biocontrol strategies for
Funds are requested to develop and test ecologically sound
mitigation and biocontrol methods--including testing use of different
decontaminants and for developing a possible vaccine that can be
deployed by wildlife managers.
Unknown/unexpected research needs
Contingency funds are requested to cover unexpected research needs
that may be identified in the course of ongoing research.
Federal surveillance and monitoring
Funds are needed for federal agencies to protect wildlife by
conducting surveillance and monitoring studies of critical hibernacula
and summer roosts under their jurisdiction, both within and beyond the
current distribution of WNS. This information will be critical for
developing and implementing sound management strategies and for
advising and assisting researchers on appropriate sites for field-based
sampling and research.
State assistance for surveillance and monitoring
Funds are needed for state fish and wildlife agencies to conduct
surveillance and monitoring of critical hibernacula and summer roosts,
both within and beyond the current distribution of WNS. This
information will be critical for developing and implementing sound
management strategies and for advising and assisting researchers on
appropriate sites for field-based sampling and research.
Coordination and disease management
Funds are requested for state and federal agencies responsible for
wildlife diseases to manage these resources to help reduce adverse
impacts of WNS on hibernating bats using adaptive management strategies
throughout the known and expected range of WNS.
Conferences and communication
These funds will be used to convene one WNS Conference each year
and one Webinar meeting each year, and for outreach and communications
related to WNS.
[GRAPHIC(S) NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you, Dr. Kunz, for your testimony and
your continued work in bat research, and I will now recognize
myself and members of the Committee for questions that we have
for the second panel.
My first question would be to you, Mr. Tuttle. What is your
top priority in addressing White-Nose Syndrome?
Mr. Tuttle. We have to conduct credible research to
document clearly that the Geomyces is the primary cause or if
something else is, what it is. We have to find out what the
mode of transmission is, and then we can look for solutions. So
far, we have spent a large amount of money almost exclusively
on monitoring and surveillance.
Bat Conservation International takes this extremely
seriously in just the first year or so under bad economic
conditions we spent more than $125,000 in emergency research.
It is critical that we understand what this is, how it is
transmitted, and how to solve the problem, and as I said in my
testimony, if we don't do that our other efforts at management
may be ineffective, could be even counterproductive.
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Dr. Darling, your testimony suggests developing creative
means of getting people on the ground quickly. Can you please
elaborate what exactly you mean by that?
Mr. Darling. Well, unfortunately, state fish and wildlife
agencies in these economic times have hiring constraints that
literally preclude any additional staffing, and what we are
finding or what I am witnessing with my peers is, again, a
single person with out duties trying to assist in research or
be the boots on the ground, and I think there are creative ways
where we could look at Federal and state partnerships through
avenues where there may be ways that we can have interagency
agreements that both agencies can be working together through
common personnel distributed throughout the states.
Ms. Bordallo. All of the witnesses this morning have
mentioned the need for funding, and this is definitely
something we are going to have to look at, but does anybody
here have an estimate of what the funding would be, just a
ballpark figure? Dr. Kunz.
Mr. Kunz. Yes, Madam Chairman. There have been two science
strategy meetings held over the last two years and the most
recent one was last week in Austin, Texas, where a number of
scientists and resource managers met to discuss research
topics, and the needs that we felt were appropriate to address
these issues, and our best estimate at this point is for over a
five-year period ranges from 10 million to 17 million dollars,
and this is basically research and monitoring within the area
that is currently affected by White-Nose. It does not address
the needs for monitoring outside this zone; that is, in the
areas where Dr. Tuttle's map shows this could be extended into
in the next few years.
Ms. Bordallo. Very good. And what is the cost? Seventeen?
Mr. Kunz. Ten to 17 million.
Ms. Bordallo. Ten to 17 million.
Mr. Kunz. And I would just add that difference is--range
here really is made up by one potential mitigation control
measure. There are a number of possible solutions that have
been discussed: bio control, vaccines, we talked about using--
people have discussed the possibility of spraying fungicides
which are probably not realistic based on some of the ideas
that Mr. Youngbaer had discussed, but to develop any kind of a
vaccine, as many of you know, is not an inexpensive effort, and
there are risks involved here because there are not very many
vaccines that have been effectively developed against a fungus.
Nonetheless, it is probably the most viable mitigation effort
that we have.
Ms. Bordallo. One further question, and I may have some for
the second round. Do any of you know, do any bats that have
developed this White-Nose Syndrome, do any of them recover?
Mr. Kunz. Well, White-Nose Syndrome is manifested by a
fungus on their face, and fungus on the wing membranes and
ears. What we do see evidence of bats that presumably survived
White-Nose Syndrome because in the spring of the year and at
maternity colonies as they arrive in May and June, many of them
have necrotic wings, scarred wings that suggest that they are
Now, there are a lot of interesting questions there. They
may survive but not be able to reproduce. They may not be able
to feed effectively with damaged wings. We have seen wings that
are just sloughed off--the major part of the wing membranes in
June at maternity colonies with a sloughed off wing, and that
is their life blood to the food that then also supports babies.
Ms. Bordallo. Thank you. Thank you very much.
I would like now to recognize the Ranking Member, Mr.
Mr. Cassidy. I guess my questions will probably be to Dr.
Tuttle and Dr. Kunz. For all of you, I admire your passions and
you have done a good job of convincing me of the importance of
It is unclear when these birds are falling into the ground,
is that because of disruption of their wings or is that because
of a neurologic issue?
Mr. Kunz. Well, there is no evidence right now that
neurologically they are affected.
Mr. Cassidy. Except they are slow to awaken from their
torpor and so----
Mr. Kunz. Yes. This has to do with the amount and kind of
fat they have. There are two kinds of fat. I mean, well, bats
have basically three kinds of fat. White fat, which is depot
fat, brown fat, and of the white fat they also have--they are
made up of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids. And it turns
out that a normal arousal from a bat, a bat that is healthy
will arouse naturally or by stimulation within 45 minutes to an
hour. When they don't have enough fat to arouse, they just
simply don't arouse. They are unable--we have observed bats
after physical stimulation in a cave. They are not arousing
after five hours. So, there is something about the type of fat
and the amount of fat that they have that makes them
Mr. Cassidy. And I had asked the gentleman earlier and he
deferred to you guys, I just have to think there is some
alternation of the immune system beyond what you have
described, a T-cell abnormality or something, because I am sure
that it is a T-cell response to the fungus it would normally
Mr. Kunz. Yes. The immune system in bats is very poorly
known. In my lab and in another lab, Dr. Dianne Reader at
Bucknell University, we are the two labs that are primarily
focusing on the immune system of these bats. It is compromised
as Dr. Blehert mentioned that these are not normal mammals.
These are mammals that go into torpor and so when an animal is
in torpor their immune system is compromised. They don't
respond. They only have immune system----
Mr. Cassidy. But wouldn't that be relative to baseline. So,
assume that you have some bats. You mentioned 95 percent die,
but 5 percent live.
Mr. Kunz. Right.
Mr. Cassidy. And I think what they do in Africa for the 5
percent that survive from HIV even though they have HIV
antibody, those are a different person. So, it seems like you
could sacrifice a few of the 5 percent that live and look at
their baseline. Are you with me?
Mr. Kunz. Yes. We are doing this, and the data are not
available at this point. We are looking at T-cell complements.
We are looking at complement proteins. But this, again, I can
only emphasize that the limited funding, the funding for this
Mr. Cassidy. OK, I only have--I am with you on that.
Do mosquitos carry the fungus?
Mr. Kunz. We are not aware that they do.
Mr. Cassidy. Because someone said that they are below a
normal temperature so it seems like that would be an obvious
And the surviving bats that you are sacrificing I am sure
you have already cultured them to see if they have the fungus
on them. Some that do not have scarred wings or mucus
membranes, et cetera. So, do the surviving bats that you
sacrifice have the fungus on them?
Mr. Kunz. I would actually call on David Blehert, who has
actually done some of this work and is more familiar with the
histopathology and the presence of the fungus during--is David
Dr. Blehert. Should I come up to a microphone?
Ms. Bordallo. Yes. You can come forward. No objection.
Dr. Blehert. Thank you. The question of surviving bats is
somewhat complicated. We can culture the fungus from live but
sick bats. We have not cultured the fungus from bats that
appear otherwise healthy, but then the question remains if we
have a healthy bat, what would happen to it next year. We
haven't seen any evidence that bats develop resistance to it.
Mr. Cassidy. Except that they are still alive?
Dr. Blehert. Right. Although if we were to mark that bat,
for example, and then allow it to naturally go back into a cave
next year, we are doing some of those experiments right now,
does it remain resistant or was it just a matter of luck?
Mr. Cassidy. Are you tagging those bats?
Dr. Blehert. Yes. That work is being done.
Mr. Cassidy. And last, it seems like it would be very easy
to have some post-doc go out there and go to all the caves
across Canada and the Southwest, et cetera, and just culture
caves for this fungus. I guess I was just curious why we still
apparently don't know the prevalence of the fungus.
Dr. Blehert. No, that work is underway right now. All of
those samples were collected during the last hibernation
season. They are in my laboratory right now, and we are
developing the technology to test those samples, and so there
is another set of results that we should have by the end of
Mr. Cassidy. Good. Thank you.
Mr. Tuttle. If I could interrupt just a second. Dave isn't
speaking up for himself. I heard him speak at the meeting last
week. A lot of the things that we would love to see done would
have been done already except that he is incredibly
understaffed relative to what is expected of him in his lab.
Mr. Youngbaer. Could I just respond to that question too?
The sediment sampling that Dr. Blehert was talking about is a
project that he, Dr. Kunz, Dr. Al Hicks, the wildlife
biologist, mammalogist for the State of New York, Department of
Environmental Conservation, and the NSS organized and funded,
and we used a score, a volunteer trained caver labor, plus some
of the state biologists and their teams who were already going
into caves, taking advantage of the fact that this was the
scheduled time for the bi-annual Indiana bat surveys, and that
got us the geographic distribution in a 30-state area.
You should understand, in my testimony I said some of the
funding was cumbersome, we arranged to do this by using an
external fiscal agent rather than the funding through the U.S.
Geological Survey because it would not have occurred this past
winter otherwise, and so that is one of the things that we have
all scrambled to try and get this information so that we could
do that analysis this year.
Mr. Cassidy. Thank you.
Ms. Bordallo. I thank the Ranking Member, and now I would
like to recognize the Co-Chair of this hearing, The Honorable
Grijalva from Arizona.
Mr. Grijalva. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Tuttle, based on the large number of unanswered
questions that we have heard about today, how has Bat
Conservation International prioritized giving out the funding
for research? I am just curious as to how you prioritize that.
Mr. Tuttle. Thank you, sir.
We early recognized that we cannot make really credible
progress on this without serious prioritization and research
that is peer reviewed. We funded both the first and the second
science strategy meetings with help from a variety of others,
but we organized the funding and hosted those science strategy
meetings, and when we give out money all of our funds are peer
reviewed through an outside panel of expert scientists. We do
not just give out money because somebody wants to do a project.
We make sure that it goes to the most credible people that
already have the best reputations in relevant fields, and then
we make sure that a peer review process occurs. That is really
important for these funds. Everybody knows that anywhere there
is money available it can go down a lot of strange places
without peer review, and that is something I think we need.
Mr. Grijalva. Thank you. Mr. Darling, of the comments, 600
or so that you have received from the public on this particular
issue, have you noticed a particular concern that comes up
Mr. Darling. There are basically two concerns that I hear
from the public. The first is, and not necessarily in any order
of priority, the first concern or worry is about rabies
exposure. These are behaviors that bats are exhibiting that
people tend to relate to as a bat sick with rabies: flopping on
the ground, dropping from the ceiling.
And the second concern that I hear is just a public concern
for what is going on. This should not be happening. Bats are
important to us in Vermont where we do have buggy summers, and
this is just not right.
So, those are the two primary comments and concerns I get
from the public.
Mr. Grijalva. Thank you. Mr. Youngbaer, do we have the peer
science to indicate which caves should be closed and which ones
should stay open? Is it your opinion that all caves should be
Mr. Youngbaer. No, it is not our opinion that all caves
should be open, and as I mentioned in my comments, NSS board of
Governors adopted a policy on White-Nose Syndrome which
enunciates a number of strategies, including honoring any of
the state or Federal or private closure orders that are out
there; strict decontamination; and also educating the public
about the possible human vector here, although that is unknown.
But as I said, those are prophylactic actions.
I think where the nuances come from very experienced cavers
is to the broadness of some of the orders and some of the
moratorium suggestion that cover non-bat caves, for example,
that bats just don't go in, why they are closed, and you will
see, if you look at our online chat rooms, for example, quite a
bit of discussion about why those things might be----
Mr. Grijalva. If you could very quickly, just because I
really believe there is an economic component to this----
Mr. Youngbaer. Yes.
Mr. Grijalva [continuing]. The multiplier effect, less
visits, less access to these caves.
Mr. Youngbaer. I will give one example that I can think of
off the top of my head.
Mr. Grijalva. OK.
Mr. Youngbaer. Southeastern Kentucky holds the Carter Cave
Crawlathon, I think they call it. This is attended by six to
seven hundred people in the dead of winter. It is a time when
local hotels, motels and restaurants aren't seeing business,
and this has been an annual event that goes on for--it was
canceled this year. There is a tremendous economic fallout from
The fact that events are canceled is going to be
demonstrated. There is confusion about what is going on with
the commercial caves. The public are asking questions when they
come there and you will see visitation fall off. So, I think
there is economic impact there, not to mention the agricultural
Mr. Grijalva. Madam Chair, I have one more.
Ms. Bordallo. Go ahead.
Mr. Grijalva. Thank you. Mr. Kunz, we have heard previous
testimony that there is no real proof that humans carry the
syndrome from cave to cave. How do you respond to that
Mr. Kunz. Mr. Chairman, it is my contention that there are
two modes of transmission, and that is humans as well as bats.
I think there is fairly clear evidence that bats are moving
this around, and we can't simply rule out the fact that cavers
or researchers who have not effectively decontaminated
themselves could move fungus around. The fungus can also be
distributed by air. The spores are transmitted. So, there are
multiple routes or modes of transmission. This is one of the
primary research needs that needs to be addressed.
Mr. Grijalva. In the research puzzle, in your opinion what
is the biggest missing piece where agencies should be focusing
the research right now?
Mr. Kunz. Well, I have a list of 10 here, and they are not
necessarily in any particular order. But I think we need--what
we just mentioned here, is the mechanism of transmission needs
to be known.
Mr. Grijalva. Thank you.
Mr. Kunz. We also need to know the ecology, the origin, and
distribution of Geomyces, the fungus, which is a newly
described species. There are many species of Geomyces, but the
ecology of this one is not known. Where it came from, if it
indeed in fact may have come from Europe. There is ongoing work
in Europe, there is ongoing work in Dave Blehert's lab in
collaboration with those folks.
Mr. Grijalva. OK, thank you.
Madam Chair, thank you for the indulgence. I appreciate it
very much, and thank you for the hearing.
Ms. Bordallo. I thank the gentleman, and now I would like
to recognize the gentlelady from Massachusetts, Mrs. Tsongas.
Ms. Tsongas. This has really been fascinating and I too
have been persuaded of the urgency of this. Are you all
confident that with the additional funding, 10 to 17 million,
that you can get ahead of it, and that you have a cohort of
professionals in place who can take advantage of that funding
and really begin to sort this out in a timely fashion? And I
direct this to whoever wants to go first.
Mr. Darling. Well, let me start by suggesting that the
existing cohort of professionals is not sufficient in size to
get this work done. We need to expand the pie both within the
Federal and stage agencies working on it, but clearly within
the other institutions, academic and nonprofits that are
participating in it as well, and often funding can help make
Ms. Tsongas. But there are people trained who could quickly
sort of take this on and begin to do the work in a way that is
Mr. Darling. Yes and no. Again, in particular where we are
looking at alternative hypotheses, if in fact it is not the
fungus, we do need to make our pie larger on the number of
people and the expertise that is needed in order to find a
solution to this problem.
Ms. Tsongas. Are there any others like--Dr. Kunz?
Mr. Kunz. Yes. My contention would be that we do have a
cohort of trained scientists that are out in the field or out
in--they are available, and would be capable of addressing many
of these issues. The funding simply hasn't been sufficient to
encourage them to even consider working. Some of the research,
the research in the immune system, determining mechanisms of
transmission, even identify the genome of Geomyces, these are
not inexpensive operations.
What I would say is that we shouldn't just have single labs
operating on this, working on this. They need to be multiple
labs; not just Department of the Interior or USGS laboratories.
We need academic researchers involved in this, which there are,
and I would also extend the need to approach other agencies:
National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health,
which are the primary biological institutions that could in
fact assist in this kind of funding.
I know there is often competition between institutions for
funding, but I think this is a clear need for cooperation among
Federal agencies to address this important issue.
Mr. Tuttle. In answer to your original question, no, we
cannot guarantee that we are going to find a solution if we get
the money, but I can virtually guarantee that we won't find the
solution if we don't, and there is reasonable prospect. There
is very significant research that we already know needs to be
done. It could have already been done if the funds were
available. We just aren't going to have a chance if we don't
get those funds to the right people very quickly.
Bat Conservation International has had to help fund
multiple projects where Federal funds were supposed to do it
but were so tied up in red tape that they couldn't be allocated
in time to do the research.
Ms. Tsongas. Well, thank you. Another question, you
suggested a vaccine might be the--not perfect, but a potential
solution. How does one administer a vaccine to a bat?
Mr. Kunz. With a needle.
Ms. Tsongas. So, it is individual by individual bat?
Mr. Kunz. We wouldn't be able to vaccinate every bat, but I
can tell you over the time that I have studied bats and even
within a given year, we could mount a number of different
researchers out there, it wouldn't be unrealistic to be able to
immunize tens of thousands of bats.
Ms. Tsongas. When they are in hibernation?
Mr. Kunz. No, when they are active. Again, I think the
problem--you know, we don't want to disturb them any more
during hibernation. Sticking a needle in a bat during
hibernation will cause it to----
Ms. Tsongas. OK. Thank you.
Ms. Bordallo. I thank the gentlelady from Massachusetts.
That was a very interesting question. I kind of wondered about
I want to thank all of the witnesses for their
participation in the hearing today, and members of the
Subcommittee may have some additional questions for the
witnesses, and we will ask you to respond to those in writing.
The record will be open for responses for 10 days.
If there is no further business before the Subcommittee, as
Chairwoman I again thank the members of the Subcommittee and
our witnesses for their participation here this morning, and
the Subcommittee now stands adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 11:38 a.m., the Subcommittee was adjourned.]
[Additional material submitted for the record follows:]
[A letter submitted for the record by Mollie Matteson,
Conservation Advocate, Center for Biological Diversity,
[GRAPHIC(S) NOT AVAILABLE IN TIFF FORMAT]
[A statement submitted for the record by Nina Fascione,
Vice President for Field Conservation Programs, Defenders of
Statement submitted for the record by Nina Fascione, Vice President for
Field Conservation Programs, Defenders of Wildlife
Chairwoman Bordallo, Chairman Grijalva and members of the
Subcommittees, thank you for the opportunity to submit written
testimony for the record on white nose syndrome and the need for
further research on the devastating impact of this disease on North
Defenders of Wildlife was founded in 1947 and is a national non-
profit organization with more than one million members and supporters
dedicated to the protection and restoration of all wild animals and
plants in their natural communities.
As you are aware, North American bats are facing a crisis of
tremendous proportions. An emerging disease called white-nose syndrome
is killing hibernating bats in large numbers and has spread through a
number of eastern states in the past two years. To-date, this disease
has killed an estimated one million bats.
Discovered in cave system near Albany, New York over two years ago,
the disease has now rapidly moved on to cave systems in Vermont,
Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire,
West Virginia and Virginia.
White nose syndrome predominantly affects the six species of
hibernating bats, which includes the federally-listed Indiana bat.
These already sensitive species are feeling the effects of the disease
and researchers are seeing significant declines in their numbers.
Researchers believe the disease is a Geomyces fungus that gets into
the bats' skin and creates a white fuzzy growth around their muzzles
and wings. How the fungus spreads is still a mystery, as is the means
to prevent bats from contracting it. Scientist and wildlife managers
currently working to fill this informational void are hampered by
financial constraints, and any delay in determining ways to halt the
spread of the disease will severely affect bat populations across the
country and the ecosystem services they provide.
Bats play a vital role in the environment and serve as natural
insecticides. They eat large numbers of insets, including pest species
like mosquitoes and crop-eating insects, thereby significantly reducing
damage to crops. Losing these insect-eating bats could trigger massive
insect explosions that impact agriculture and human health.
Urgent funding is needed to avert the catastrophic out come of
white nose syndrome should it progress unchecked. A current
Congressional letter from Representative Shea-Porter requests $5
million for research, management, coordination and outreach to be
included in the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
Appropriations bill to assist the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the
U.S. Geological Survey, the National Parks Service and the U.S. Forest
Service as they work to combat white nose syndrome. While we support
this request, we believe that $5 million will not be sufficient to
combat this disease. We are aware that scientists may suggest funding
in the range of $30 million to address the issue--we believe this to be
a more accurate figure and would support funding in this amount.