7 August 2014

3 bat species may be listed as at risk

Little brown bat, northern myotis and the tri-coloured bat are being devastated by white-nose fungus

CBC News

Environment Canada is considering whether to list three types of bats as species at risk, as populations have been devastated by white-nose syndrome.

The federal department is completing its public consultations this month on whether the little brown bat, the northern myotis and the tri-coloured bat should be considered at risk.

Environment Canada will then need to analyze the information, before officials can advise the federal minister on whether to make these devastated bats an officially endangered species.

In 2012, an expert scientific panel in Canada declared the three bat populations to be endangered, but federal officials said more information was needed.

"We spent the time attempting to gather that information to understand who the potential affected stakeholders might be, and now that we have that information we've proceeded with the pre-consultations,” said Bob McLean, the executive director of the Canadian Wildlife Service.

White-nose syndrome appeared first in the United States and has spread north. The disease was first detected in a cave west of Albany, N.Y., in 2006 and hit New Brunswick around 2011.

The disease, which was named for the white patches of fungus that appear on their muzzles and other body parts, causes infected bats to wake up early from their winter hibernation.

The bats end up dying from starvation, due to a lack of insects to eat or exposure while searching for food.

New Brunswick's brown bat population dropped to 22 this spring, down from 7,000 in 2011, due to white-nose syndrome.

Even though the federal government is examining the possibility of adding the three types of bats to the species at risk list, some observers say too much time has passed since that dire report in 2012.

James Page, the manager of the species at risk program for the Canadian Wildlife Federation, said the bats should already be on the list.

"One would have hoped that because it was deemed an emergency by the experts … it would have been acted on more quickly,” Page said.

Unknown whether bats can recover

A formal listing under the Species at Risk Act means a recovery plan would have to be developed for these three bats.

Don McAlpine, the head of zoology at the New Brunswick Museum, said it is unknown whether a listing could actually help the species bounce back.

"We have less than, far less than, one half of one percent of our original overwintering bat population in the province,” he said.

But the zoologist added the designation would offer some hope for the species.

"The legislation provides protection for habitat, so at this stage we really need to protect that overwintering habitat where these bats are found,” he said.

The lifespan of bats is between 30 and 35 years but they have a relatively low birth rate. Bats tend to have only one offspring each year, so it could take years for the population to recover.

The falling bat population is a problem for the province because bats are a natural form of pest control, McAlpine has said.