The Green Blog

Bats are worth billions

April 11, 2011

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Ever since bats literally began falling out of the winter sky four years ago, scientists have raced to understand a mysterious illness that has caused their populations to decline more than 70 percent in the Northeast.

The crash is unprecedented — the little brown bat is expected to be extinct in 20 years — yet public reaction has, at best, been muted. Researchers blame the “ewww’’ effect: Panda and polar bears have a lot more going for them in the cute department. But researchers at Boston University and elsewhere have documented how much these bats are worth to the US agriculture industry.

In one of two analyses, both coauthored by BU bat specialist Thomas Kunz, researchers conclude that natural pest-control services by insect-eating bats save the agriculture sector at least $3 billion a year.

The illness, white-nose syndrome, and bat fatalities at large wind farms could lead to substantial economic losses on agricultural farms, said the analysis, which appeared in Science.

The other study focused on ecosystem services — benefits from the environment that increase human well-being — provided by bats; it was published in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

“Hopefully these papers will provide a wake-up call,’’ Kunz said in an e-mail.

The Science study noted bats’ value could reach as high as $53 billion a year, and farmers could notice the missing bats in the next five years as more pests attack crops. The estimated loss of 1 million bats in the Northeast in recent years has probably resulted in 660 to 1,320 metric tons of insects no longer being eaten each year by the animals, the study said.

White-nose syndrome, named for a fungus that appears on bats’ noses and other body parts, first appeared in New York and in the past four years has spread into 17 states and Eastern Canada.

Beth Daley

More fishing help sought Senator John F. Kerry and representatives Barney Frank and Bill Keating have asked Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to allow fishermen to catch more fish next year, within the overall catch limits.

Fishermen are under a new management regime coupled with stricter catch limits on many species, and some say they are being forced out of New England’s fishing industry just as fish are finally coming back.

Fishermen can carry more than 10 percent of unused quota from year to year, but Keating, Frank, and Kerry are asking if fishermen can use more than 10 percent of their unused quota next year.

“As the end of the fishing season draws to a close, it is evident that several individual fishing stocks quotas remain to be filled,’’ the letter said.

“For example, only 67% of the total allocation of George’s Bank Cod has been caught and only 16.5% of the George’s Bank Haddock. . . . In order to maximize the economic development of our local fisheries, we respectfully request that you consider increasing the percentage of unmet quota that can be rolled-over into the 2011-2012 fishing year.’’

Beth Daley

Bike sharing at Tufts Students at Tufts University will be able to zip between classes and get off campus faster thanks to TuftsBikes, a new student-run bicycle-share program. The operation makes 30 bikes available for free to all members of the Tufts community.

Riders can borrow them through the library for up to eight hours.

Student government funded the program.

TuftsBikes created a bike shop that will maintain the bicycles, give classes about repairs, and provide a space for students to fix their own bikes.

Dara Olmsted