CONTACT: Cori Lausen. 250 353 8204
The discovery in northwest Washington State of bats killed by white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease that has devastated bat populations in eastern North America, is a wake-up call for the B.C. government, says the province’s leading bat researcher.
“WNS is now on our doorstep and if we don’t act, we could see a huge economic impact for both agricultural and forestry. Bats are voracious consumers of insects. If bat numbers decline like they have in the east, there is big trouble ahead,” says Dr. Cori Lausen, Associate Conservation Scientist with Wildlife Conservation Society Canada.
WNS causes hibernating bats to repeatedly rouse during the winter using up precious stored fat. If starvation does not kill them, then other complications such as physical damage to wings does. In many areas where WNS has already struck, 90% of bat colony members have died from the disease.
“Bats play an incredibly important role in pest control. At least one species of B.C. bat, for example, feeds on spruce budworm caterpillars and moths. That’s an important asset for the forestry industry. Others feed on insects that can affect crops, financially benefiting farmers through reduced pesticide use. And we all benefit from bats feeding on mosquitoes and other biting insects,” Dr. Lausen explains. “The economic fallout from massive bat decline could be felt by everyone, and affect all aspects of the ecosystem from fish to trees.”
But in BC, the disease will only be detectable when bats are leaving hibernation sites, meaning the key period for tracking the potential spread of the disease is late winter and early spring, which, in turn, means we need to be ramping up early detection efforts now.
“Unfortunately, the provincial government does not currently have internal expertise and has not allocated secured funding to address the bat conservation crisis which is about to hit this province,” says Dr. Lausen. “That is why we are urging them to quickly adopt the Bat Action Plan (posted today on www.bcbat.ca/publications) developed by the BC Bat Action Team, which outlines high priority actions we need to take to help bats survive and recover.”
The BC Bat Action Team is an initiative of a number of conservation organizations and concerned scientists from across B.C. “This group’s voluntary efforts have given the government a valuable blueprint for responding to the crisis. Now it is up to the government to allocate resources to put the plan into action,” Dr. Lausen explains.
Dr. Lausen has spent the past five years researching the 16 bat species found in B.C. – more than in any other province of Canada. “There is a huge amount at stake here, especially with seven species found nowhere else in Canada,” she says, adding “We can take steps to help bats, whether it is protecting habitat, reducing threats, or better understanding how the disease spreads. But we need to recognize that this crisis is not just about bats, it’s about our environment, food, and pocket books. If we wait to act, our bats will stand little chance in the face of this devastating disease and we will be left with the consequences.”