Endangered status for bats urged again by scientists
Deadly white-nose syndrome infection devastating Maritime populations
Canadian scientists have issued a second appeal to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government to protect bat populations being rapidly wiped out in the Maritimes.
The endangered status the scientists are seeking would force the federal government to develop a plan to save three bat species.
"The die off has been dramatic," said Graham Forbes, a biologist with the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
White-nose syndrome is blamed for killing off between 95 to 99 per cent of the little brown bat population in some parts of the region. The fatal infection is caused by a fungus that causes bats to wake frequently during winter hibernation and with limited food available, the bats die from starvation and hypothermia.
The deadly infection — believed from Europe — arrived three years ago with devastating results.
"We've had a catastrophic decline. Totally unexpected. One of the most abundant species in the region is actually gone from a large part of the Maritimes," Forbes told CBC News.
Forbes chairs the terrestrial mammal section of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), a committee of experts that assesses and designates which wildlife species are in some danger of disappearing from Canada.
Earlier this week, the committee recommended Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq give three bat species endangered status: the little brown, the northern and the tri-coloured bats.
Forbes says once Aglukkaq receives the COSEWIC annual report she has 90 days to respond.
Stopping the spread
The federal government did not respond to a first request made by COSEWIC in 2012, although the filing did prompt a full scientific review carried out last week in Ottawa.
Forbes is hopeful the Aglukkaq will grant endangered status to the bats.
"The minister decides if there is too negative an impact to some other values in society by listing a species — economic or social issues," he said.
"In the case of bats, I can't imagine there's too many things that's a great concern to other interests. These things are very beneficial to agriculture, they eat a lot of pests. From the forestry and agriculture point of views, the more bats the better."
Forbes said steps are being taken to close some caves and educate the public.
The federal government has created a national committee to co-ordinate a response and Forbes said a species-at-risk listing would take it further.
"The recovery plan would work on more specific activities and maybe prioritize some regulations specific to certain sites," Forbes said.
At this point, the goal is to stop the spread of the disease to the west and north.