White-nose syndrome forces cave closings

White-nose syndrome, a mysterious disease that has been killing hundreds of thousands of North American bats since its discovery in 2007, has now forced the U.S. Forest Service to close caves in national forests across the country in an attempt to rein in transmission of the disease. The disease is caused by a cold-loving fungus that infects bats’ faces and wings during the winter months, disrupting their hibernation patterns and causing them to starve to death.  An estimated half a million bats have died from the affliction, and scientists have found piles of dead bats around caves where mortality can be up to 90 percent of a cave’s roosting population. According to a New York Times report: “A Forest Service biologist, Becky Ewing, said an emergency order was issued last week for caves in 20 states from Minnesota to Maine. A second order covering the Forest Service’s 13-state Southern region should be issued this month.” At a briefing for conservation partners in Washington on April 30, scientists and managers from the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey gave an update about the status of this mysterious disease. Jeremy Coleman of the FWS said that although transmission of the fungus is likely bat-to-bat, they don’t have enough data yet on the fungus, a previously undescribed species of Geomyces.  The FWS had requested a voluntary ban on caving in the affected areas, but does not have the authority to close caves, said Wendy Weber, also of the FWS. Although the Times story quotes representatives of the caving industry who are supportive of the measure, the caving ban stands to affect the livelihood of commercial cavers on forest service lands. At last week’s briefing, several representatives from the caving community expressed their frustration at the level of communication from government agencies, saying they feel “in the dark” about the research and management decisions about WNS. Read more about WNS and a new program being tested to curb bat deaths in this ESA press release. Photo courtesy Nancy Heaslip, New York Department of Environmental...

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The state of the union’s birds

A comprehensive analysis of the current condition of birds in the U.S. was released yesterday by The Nature Conservancy, USGS, the Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and many other non-profit groups. Dubbed The State of the Birds, the document reports that of the nation’s approximately 800 bird species, 67 are federally listed as endangered, 184 are of conservation concern and many others are declining due to dwindling habitat. The report highlights precipitous declines in Hawaiian birds, where introduced predators have decimated native bird populations. Seabirds and shorebirds are also suffering from pollution, overfishing and warming oceans, according to the report, and lack of management in arid lands and grasslands have led to neglect and decline in birds adapted to these habitats. On the other hand, Wetland birds are shown to be quite resilient to disturbance. The report draws attention to several successful conservation efforts, such as for the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, and emphasizes the need for conservation programs tailored to threatened species. The report brings together data from three surveys that include biologists and citizen scientists: the North American Breeding Bird Survey, administered by the U.S. Geological Survey and Canadian Wildlife Service; the Christmas Bird Count, conducted by the National Audubon Society; and the Waterfowl Breeding Population and Habitat Survey, from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service. Listen to NPR’s All Things Considered story about the...

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Policy News Update

There’s been a lot of buzz in Washington these past few weeks, and a good deal of it is about science. Here are highlights from today’s issue of the ESA Policy News Update, written by ESA’s Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Science in the Economic Stimulus Bill. An $825 billion economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Bill of 2009, is set to go to vote in the U.S. House of Representatives next week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said there are four words to describe this bill: “science, science, science and science.” As proposed, the bill would provide billions of dollars for science, including $3 billion to NSF, $1.2 billion for NOAA (half of which is dedicated to climate research), $200 million to repair and modernize the USGS, and $550 million to the U.S. Forest Service.  The bill also proposes $79 billion for relief at the state level, including public colleges and universities.  You can read more details about the bill in ESA’s Policy News Update. ESA urges ecologists to contact their representatives and senators and express their opinions on the bill. Review of midnight regulations. Obama’s Chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, ordered a freeze Tuesday on all pending federal regulations, allowing the new White House team to review—and possibly reverse—many of the Bush administration’s last-minute rule changes. These “midnight regulations” include revisions of the Endangered Species Act, the removal of the gray wolf from the endangered species list in several states, the leasing of 2 million acres of western lands for oil shale research and development, and the modification of air pollution permits and mountaintop mining standards (the new regulation would allow mining companies to dispose of waste in rivers). Several Congressional Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV), have also vowed to take action against the last-minute regulations. Deadline set for House climate change bill. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman set a Memorial Day deadline for moving comprehensive climate and energy legislation through his committee. Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, will play a lead role in writing the climate legislation. The specifics of the bill have not yet been revealed, but suggested legislation has already been received with some resistance by committee Republicans, who are either skeptical of climate change science or concerned with the economic implications of the bill. Omnibus bill passed. On January 15, following a months-long battle between Democratic leaders and Republican Senator Tom Coburn (OK), the Senate passed an omnibus package including more than 160 water, resources and public lands bills. The bill was considered largely uncontroversial....

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