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Senate Committee Approves Lautenberg Bill to Curtail Dangerous Wildlife Diseases
Legislation Addresses White-Nose Syndrome Killing Bats Throughout the U.S.
Lautenberg Press Office, 202-224-3224
Wednesday, July 25,
WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today approved legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) to create a federal plan for responding to wildlife disease emergencies. Lautenberg’s legislation would help to provide a better understanding of and ways to address wildlife diseases like the mysterious and deadly white-nose syndrome (WNS) that is decimating bat populations in New Jersey and throughout the Northeast.
“To fight devastating wildlife diseases like white-nose syndrome, federal and state agencies, scientists, and other groups need a coordinated plan—and that’s what this legislation will help them develop,” Lautenberg said. “Bats play a vital role in our ecosystem, and we need to ensure that bat populations in New Jersey and throughout the country are not decimated by disease. More than 5 million bats have died from white-nose syndrome, causing a ripple effect on our economy, environment, and public health. We must be better prepared to stop the next wildlife disease emergency and this legislation is an important step forward.”
The “Wildlife Disease Emergency Act” focuses much-needed resources and attention on diseases like white-nose syndrome. Lautenberg’s bill would provide the Secretary of the Interior with the authority to declare wildlife disease emergencies, establish a dedicated Wildlife Disease Emergency Fund to understand and address disease emergencies, and provide for a coordinated response across state and federal agencies.
White-nose syndrome is named for white fungal growth around the noses and on the bodies of affected animals. It first appeared in caves near Albany, New York in February 2006, and was confirmed in New Jersey in 2009. Since bats are slow breeders and produce only one pup per year on average, scientists fear the disease could cause the extinction of many bat species. Since its discovery in 2006, white-nose syndrome has killed more than 5.7 million bats in North America and has spread rapidly across the United States and into Canada.
Bats play a critical role in North American ecosystems. They prey almost exclusively on insects such as mosquitoes, which spread disease, and moths and beetles, which damage crops. A single bat can easily eat more than 3,000 insects a night and an entire colony will consume hundreds of millions. As a result, bats reduce the need for pesticides, which cost farmers billions of dollars every year and can be harmful to human health.
In July 2009, Senator Lautenberg highlighted the threat of white-nose syndrome on bat populations during a Senate hearing that he called for to examine threats to native wildlife species. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Senator Lautenberg has worked to secure more than $5 million in funding for white-nose syndrome. The “Wildlife Disease Emergency Act” is co-sponsored by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The legislation is supported by wildlife advocacy groups, including The Wildlife Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Pollinator Partnership, American Bird Conservancy, The Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, Animal Welfare Institute, EcoHealth Alliance, and Bat Conservation International.
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