Federal wildlife officials propose listing the tricolored bat as endangered

The US Fish and Wildlife Service submitted a suggestion last week to list a new animal as “vulnerable” under the Endangered Species Act. The tri-colored bat is on the brink of extinction, the agency says, largely due to the rapid spread of white-nose syndrome.

“We once saw healthy bat colonies that have disappeared,” said Jonathan Reichard, the agency’s deputy national coordinator for white-nose syndrome.

White Nose Syndrome is a fungus that develops in cave dwellers during hibernation. It penetrates their skin and can be fatal. It has caused an estimated population decline of more than 90 percent in the affected colonies, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The tricolor bat is one of the smallest bats in Mountain West and is known for its distinctive brown, yellow, and dark gray hairs. The population ranges from the east coast of North America to the Rocky Mountains.

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Reichard said the species is unique because it often inhabits leafy trees throughout the summer. He said the mammal plays an important role in its ecosystem by controlling certain insects and plants.

“There are real economic and environmental benefits from healthy bat populations,” he said.

A recently paper from Colorado State University suggests that the loss of bats to the highly contagious fungal disease costs US agriculture as much as $495 million a year.

First discovered in New England, white-nose syndrome has now been confirmed in 38 states, including Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico and Idaho. It threatens several species of bats, including the northern long-eared bat.

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“We haven’t found a way to actually stop this spread,” Reichard said. “That’s why we continue to see this type of white-nose syndrome moving west.”

    The spread of white nose syndrome over time.

(Screenshot courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service)

The spread of white nose syndrome over time.

Reichard hopes that marking the tri-colored bat as endangered will give the Fish and Wildlife Service more resources to protect the bats. Federal-level listings trigger conservation and restoration planning on behalf of the species and provide a non-regulatory roadmap to guide efforts. For example, the agency might be able to clean bat roost sites in caves more frequently to try to curb the spread of fungus.

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Additionally, the Fish and Wildlife Service said this proposal will raise awareness and allow the public to participate in the surveillance effort. People can contact a local bat expert this interactive map to learn how you can get involved in recovery or conservation efforts.

This story was produced by Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliated stations throughout the region. The Mountain West News Bureau is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2022 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

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