WATERBURY – Two species of bats devastated by a mysterious disease should quickly be added to Vermont’s endangered species list, the state Endangered Species Committee recommended Tuesday.
Little brown bats and northern long-eared bats were the state’s most common cave-wintering bats as recently as three years ago. They clustered by the tens of thousands in caves and abandoned mines.
The number of little brown bats has plunged at least 75 percent, experts reported, and recent surveys in some spots could find no northern long-eared bats at all.
“There are models that predict extinction within 16 years,” University of Vermont biologist William Kilpatrick reported to the committee.
The bats have fallen victim to white nose syndrome, an illness linked to a cold-loving fungus that appeared suddenly in Northeastern U.S. caves five years ago. Afflicted bats die after rousing prematurely from their winter sleep and quickly burning up their stored reserves of energy.
Insect-eating bats are considered a critical part of the ecosystem and are important to humans because they act as a control on mosquitoes and agricultural insect pests.
Committee members voted unanimously to declare the two bats endangered. Committee Chairman Sally Laughlin hand-carried the recommendation to Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz as soon as the meeting ended.
Markowitz makes the final decision on species listings. Scientists said they hope she will act before the endangered bats emerge from their caves in late April or early May.
Addition to the endangered species list provides some protection for the creatures. State law makes it illegal to kill any individual within the species. Developers can be required to protect the habitat of an endangered species as a condition of their development permits.
It also is possible that the listing would have an effect on the operation of wind energy projects in Vermont, since the turning blades of wind turbines are known to kill bats, Kilpatrick said.
But listing a species also can galvanize education and other voluntary efforts by the state and advocacy groups. That might be particularly important in the case of bats, the scientists said, since humans often are afraid of bats and kill those that find their way into homes.
“A bat gets into your house and people reach for something to knock it down. We need to learn to get some help instead,” state Wildlife Director Mark Scott said.
If Markowitz accepts the committee’s recommendation, the two bats would be the first species to be added to Vermont’s protection list since 2005.
The recommendation for action by the Endangered Species Committee came jointly from the state Fish and Wildlife Department and the committee’s mammal advisory group.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding