WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to support the fight against the bat-killing fungal disease white nose syndrome by awarding $1 million in grants to 39 states, including Vermont, and the District of Columbia.
Leahy, vice chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, has championed research and prevention of WNS, adding $1 million to this year's FWS science support budget, for a total of $3.5 million. The state of Vermont will receive $25,000 of the grant funding available to states, with a total of $1 million being distributed nationally.
"Bats have an outsized role in our ecosystem," Leahy said in a statement. "As white nose syndrome continues to burn its way across the country, we need to do all we can to help to stop its spread and to help these populations recover. I'll continue working to see that federal support is in place to meet this challenge."
WNS, which was first identified in southern Vermont and neighboring New York in 2007, has now spread to at least 36 states and seven Canadian provinces. WNS has killed millions of North American bats in recent years, decimating many populations and putting several species at additional risk of extinction. This summer it was discovered for the first time in cave-rich South Dakota, and for the first time was found to be infecting the long-legged bat, the newest North American bat species documented with the disease.
Bats are crucial to farmers and foresters, helping control pest insects such as beetles and locusts, and significantly reducing the amount of toxic pesticides that otherwise would be needed. Studies estimate that bats save farmers at least $3.7 billion per year in potential lost crop revenue and in pesticide savings.
These grants will help states support a national strategy for the disease, which includes increasing bat survival rates, preventing further spread and preparing for the potential arrival of the disease in new areas.
This year's grants bring the total funding to states for WNS response over the last eight years to $8 million. This financial support is part of a FWS-led cooperative international effort involving more than 100 state, federal, tribal, academic and nonprofit partners.
"These grants are critical to helping states respond to white nose syndrome," said Jeremy Coleman, National White Nose Syndrome Coordinator for the Service. "We've seen so much collaboration and innovative work from states engaged in the international response. Without the grants, many states would be limited in the amount of work they can do to help bats.
The funds may be used to support activities addressing WNS including response planning, population monitoring, sample collection for disease surveillance, containment, and outreach and support of research, such as experimental treatment research funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's Bats for the Future Fund.