WASHINGTON (CN) – Two species of bats that live in Colorado caves will be “at risk of being wiped out from White-Nose syndrome” if the federal government allows the National Speleological Society to host 1,500 cave enthusiasts there for its annual convention, environmentalists say.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Bureau of Land Management, claiming their issuing permits to the cave group – which is not a defendant – violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The BLM granted a permit for the National Speleological Society’s annual convention, which hosts an estimated 1,500 cavers from around the country.
“The permit will allow the convention attendees to make organized trips to caves that are known habitat for populations of two species of bats – the Townsend’s big-eared bat and the fringed myotis – thereby putting these and other bat populations at risk of being wiped out from White-Nose syndrome,” the complaint states.
White-nose syndrome has killed at least 1 million bats in the U.S. Northeast since it was first documented in New York in 2007. Bats are important pollinators and also control insects.
“Scientists believe that White-Nose syndrome is spread between caves via caves’ gear, and that the disease is also spread from bat to bat. Once infected, White-Nose disease typically kills over 90 percent of bat populations, with infected bats literally starving to death as a result of the fungal disease,” according to the complaint.
“White-Nose disease has been confirmed in 16 eastern U.S. states and four Canadian provinces so far. Yet despite repeated warnings from the scientific community and agency policies recommending avoidance of all entry to caves and abandoned mines until more can be learned about this terrible disease, BLM decided to grant the SRP and allow the NSS convention to conduct organized trips into the LaSunder and Anvil Points Caves, which are known habitat and likely hibernacula for Colorado bats.”
The Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity says that a 2006 BLM plan limits recreational access to LaSunder Cave to no more than 10 trips a year, with three to five people per trip,. LaSunder Cave is believed to be a winter hibernation site for multiple bat species, and Anvil Points Cave is a known winter hibernaculum for multiple bat species.
The Center for Biological Diversity says the BLM was arbitrary and capricious in granting the permit, which violates the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Center acknowledges that White-Nose Syndrome has not been found in Colorado. But it says that disease, which is characterized by a white fungus that grows on the nose, ears, and wing membranes of bats and depletes them of fat reserves during hibernation, is spread by cavers.
“Scientists have recently estimated that the loss of the free, non-toxic pest control services provided by insect-eating bats is worth $3.7 [billion] to $53 billion per year, to American agriculture,” the complaint states. “Several bat species could become globally extinct, if White-Nose syndrome continues to spread unchecked.”
The group wants the permit vacated.
The Center for Biological Diversity is represented by Amy Atwood of Portland, Ore.
White-Nose syndrome, combined with colony collapse disorder in honeybees, have caused alarm among environmentalists and farmers, who depend upon the insects and flying mammals for pollination and other free services.