The Green Blog

As bats disappear at a rapid rate, a national response plan is drafted

A bat at a Vermont mine with white nose syndrome. A bat at a Vermont mine with white nose syndrome. (Marvin Moriarty/Usfws)
By Beth Daley
Globe Staff / September 28, 2009

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Excerpts from the Globe’s environmental blog.

This month, federal and state biologists met at an abandoned copper mine in Vermont for an annual survey of bats. In previous years, they counted at least 900 in a sample. This year, they caught one.

The reduction is due to a deadly bat illness called white nose syndrome, which is decimating bat populations in the Northeast. Federal officials are getting more organized to combat it. Marvin Moriarty, Northeast regional director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, unveiled a draft national plan this month to better control the spread of the illness, minimize the risk, and coordinate research and public outreach efforts.

Researchers have been stunned by how quickly the lethal syndrome has spread since bats with a fuzzy white fungus on their bodies were first photographed in February 2006 near Albany, N.Y. Since then, hundreds of thousands of hibernating bats are estimated to have died - if not more - from Vermont to Virginia. Affected bats can be emaciated and act erratically, flying around during daylight hours in the winter before dying.

Scientists are honing in on a fungus, a cold-loving variety, as a possible cause. Yet bats are dying in such numbers - mortality is higher than 90 percent in some caves and mines - that they are deeply concerned about losing too many before a cause or solution can be found.

While several species of bats are affected, Fish and Wildlife estimates the population of endangered Indiana bats in the Northeast region dropped 30 percent from 2007 to 2009, according to preliminary estimates from the 2009 count of Indiana bats. The Northeast region has 12 to 13 percent of the Indiana bat population.

An environmental group that has been calling for a more organized and formal response said last week that it was pleased with the Fish and Wildlife plan - but much will be needed to save the bats.

“Getting a plan written is an enormous step forward. Next, it has to be implemented, and it needs money. Otherwise, it’ll just be a way to pass time as the bats disappear,’’ said Mollie Matteson, a wildlife biologist and conservation advocate in the Center for Biological Diversity’s Northeast office.

How are you getting to work?

When gas prices were really high, we all drove less. But are you getting behind the wheel again?

Environment Massachusetts, an advocacy group, has released a report showing that Massachusetts residents’ reliance on public transportation in 2008 increased by 3 percent over 2007 levels. We all know that volatile fuel prices and the recession drove that trend. But in the end, Bay State residents did drive 2.8 million fewer miles in 2008 than in 2007 - a 5 percent decrease.

The report uses the statistics to underscore the enormous greenhouse gas reductions that come from driving fewer miles: Public transportation in 2008 reduced global warming pollution in Massachusetts by 1.4 million tons, said Elizabeth Cerkez of Environment Massachusetts.

But a quick glance at recent MBTA statistics shows that T ridership is no longer as high as it was in 2008.

And several stories in the news media have noted that drivers are getting behind the wheel again, even as gas prices remain moderately high.

So are you back on the road? Is it in a Prius? Are you on a bike? How have the events of the last year changed your transportation habits?