Celebrating Bat Week

by Principal Deputy Director Martha Williams and North Atlantic-Appalachian Regional Director Wendi Weber

It’s the time of year when bats abound in seasonal decorations, mythic folklore, and all things spooky, scary, and supernatural. Next week this imagery will be gone and replaced by fall colors, pumpkins, turkeys, and reminders of the feast that awaits us.

Bats themselves aren’t nearly so fleeting. For much of the year they are all around us, from our cities to our farmlands to our nation’s conserved lands — allies often unnoticed, and sometimes misunderstood.

Bats are of vital importance to the health of our natural environment, economies, and human communities. Their insect-eating prowess saves American farmers more than $3 billion in pest control each year, reducing pesticide use and protecting the health of our fields, gardens, and waters. Pollinating and seed-dispersing bats give us such treats as mangoes, coffee, guavas, bananas, cloves, and agave.

Yet as many North American bats settle into hibernation, they begin another winter overshadowed by the threat of white-nose syndrome (WNS). Owing to an invasive and cold-loving fungus, more than 6 million bats have succumbed to WNS since 2006, making it one of the deadliest wildlife diseases on the continent. The fungus has caused signs of disease in 12 species of bats across 37 states.

Healthy little brown bats. Photo credit: Troy Gipps, Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

Working with an array of partners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service leads the coordinated national response to combat WNS. Through an international effort that includes more than 150 federal, state, provincial, and territorial agencies, Tribes, non-governmental organizations, and universities, the Service guides a continual push for innovation and research that has yielded promising treatments to slow the disease and improve bat survival at a landscape scale.

The collective work of the Service, the National Park Service, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Forest Service, and other federal partners, harnesses the best science in pursuit of technologies to eradicate or mitigate the fungus’s impacts to bats.

We stand ready to monitor bat populations and the effects of management and other conservation actions through the North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat). Co-led by USGS and the Service, NABat has consolidated nearly 60 million records from 49 states, 8 Canadian provinces, and 10 tribal organizations. The program will enable us to monitor populations at a continental scale for an entire species group that is highly mobile, cryptic and widely distributed. Further, NABat integrates the best available science and data to inform decision making in our delivery of conservation.

This Bat Week, we encourage you to join us in celebrating the work of our bat champions who work to elevate awareness and appreciation for these spectacular creatures and to strengthen the conservation landscape they depend upon. We also invite you to be a bat champion from wherever you sit, joining us to support these allies of the night.

And the next time you enjoy a pumpkin spice latte, be sure to thank the pollinating bats who helped make those coffee beans possible.

- Martha & Wendi

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