Bats live on every continent except Antarctica and serve extremely important ecological roles as pollinators, seed dispersers and consumers of vast quantities of insects. Although some societies value these useful animals, many persecute bats based on irrational prejudice and fears of rabies.
In recent years, a lethal fungus has emerged which is causing devastation among bat colonies across the Eastern US. White-nose syndrome (WNS) has killed at least one million bats since appearing in a single New York cave in the winter of 2006. The endangered Indiana bat has been devastated by WNS. The fungus has been confirmed on endangered gray bats and is threatening to envelop important habitats of two endangered subspecies, the Virginia and Ozark big-eared bats. Recent research predicts that WNS will likely drive even the once-common little brown bat into regional extinctions.
A recent scientific study estimated that the loss of bats as insect predators may cost agriculture between $3.7 billion and $53 billion a year. The more than a million bats who have already died from the disease would have consumed between 660 and 1,320 tons of insects each year. Those agricultural industry losses are in addition to the downstream environmental effects of increased pesticide use, negative economic implications when bats can no longer fulfill their role in maintaining the health of forest ecosystems, and serious public health implications of an increase in disease-carrying pests.
AWI has been working to harness federal resources to combat this catastrophic disease. AWI assisted in setting up Senate and House briefings on WNS to call attention to the dangers posed by the disease and the need for robust federal efforts to address it, and worked with congressional offices to secure sufficient funding for the federal agencies responsible for studying and combating WNS.
AWI has also been involved in protecting specific populations of the endangered Indiana bat from the threat of a proposed wind farm. AWI is a strong proponent of the development of alternative and renewable energy, but feels it is critically important that these projects don’t cause adverse impacts to endangered species, including bats and birds. AWI and other co-plaintiffs scored a significant and precedent-setting legal victory when a federal district court in Maryland ruled in our favor in a lawsuit to force Beech Ridge Energy to comply with the Endangered Species Act to minimize or mitigate the impacts of a wind energy development project in West Virginia on the Indiana bat. The ruling led to a settlement of the case that has allowed the majority of the wind turbines on the farm to be constructed and operated while minimizing impacts to the endangered bats.
In the early 1970s in the US, humans started to recognize the importance of gray wolves, culminating in the listing of the first subspecies—the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf—under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1974. The listing of further subspecies followed and gray wolf numbers increased. Though still at a fraction of their original population, over 5,000 gray wolves in the lower 48 states now occupy a small portion of their historic range.
Without the protections provided by the ESA, gray wolves could not have begun to resume their critical ecological role in wild America. Although they are subjected even now to unwarranted and heavy-handed lethal management techniques, the return of gray wolves to Yellowstone, central Idaho, and elsewhere has been among America’s greatest conservation victories. Ironically, their growing numbers are being used as a reason to disqualify them from federal protection.
Due to expanding human populations, gray wolves now struggle to survive in fragmented habitats in close proximity with human settlements. This fragmentation puts gray wolf populations at risk of genetic bottlenecking due to inbreeding and human-wolf conflicts.