Federal wildlife disease plan could prevent future epidemics

    U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey has introduced a bill that would allow federal authorities to declare wildlife disease emergencies.

     

    The proposed Wildlife Disease Emergency Act is in response to the rapid spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that is wiping out bats in the Northeast and traveling ever westward. Well over a million bats have perished from the disease.

    “There is an urgent need to research this problem so that bat populations in New Jersey and throughout the country are not decimated,” Lautenberg said in a statement.  “Without a quick response, white-nose syndrome could have a ripple effect that hurts the economy, environment and public health.”

    DeeAnn Reeder, a researcher at Bucknell University, was the first to discover white-nose syndrome in Pennsylvania. She said the scientific community has been playing catch-up in the fight against the syndrome. Future federal coordination of money and research efforts could help reduce lag time in the future, she said.

    This would “allow the federal government to be proactive and have something in place for continued studies for white nose,” Reeder said, “and also for the next sort of white-nose syndrome that shows up.”

    The legislation would require the secretary of the Interior to coordinate federal, state and local authorities in dealing with declared wildlife emergencies. It would also set aside money to fund those efforts.

    Reeder called the move “proactive.”

    “The world is an increasingly smaller place,” she said. “Emerging infectious diseases, both those that influence people and those that stay within wildlife, are just going to be on the increase.”

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