By Eric Tegethoff
Washington News Service
SEATTLE – The first reported case of white-nose syndrome in a West Coast bat was confirmed in North Bend, Washington, last week by wildlife health officials.
The disease spreads rapidly among bat populations and has killed nearly 7 million bats on the East Coast.
White-nose syndrome is caused by a white fungus typically found on the noses of infected bats.
Mollie Matteson, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, says the news does not bode well for West Coast bats.
“The Pacific Northwest is a possible new epicenter for the spread of this disease,” she says. “Which has been absolutely devastating to bats in the eastern half of the country.”
Before last week, the disease had only been confirmed as far west as Nebraska.
Thirteen-hundred miles separate North Bend and Nebraska. Matteson says the vast distance makes it unlikely bats carried it that far.
Humans, who are unharmed by the disease, are the more likely source.
She says in order to give West Coast bats a chance, her organization is pushing for a few measures to prevent further spread of the disease.
“We need to make access into caves for non-essential purposes more difficult,” says Matteson. “And if you’re going to do that, you have to be accountable for your actions and make sure that you decontaminate your gear and don’t spread the disease around.”
Farmers on the West Coast could also be affected if bats are devastated like they were in the east. A study by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey estimates bats save U.S. farmers at least $3 billion a year in pest control.