Senate Bill Seeks Stronger Response to Wildlife Diseases

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)—citing grave concern over the devastating effect white-nose syndrome (WNS) has had on hibernating bats in New Jersey and across the US—introduced S. 357, the Wildlife Disease Emergency Act, on February 15. This bill would allow the Secretary of the Interior, in consultation with the governors of affected states, to declare a wildlife disease emergency and marshal the resources of federal, state, and local governments, Indian tribes, nongovernmental entities, and others in a rapid, coordinated response to the crisis. Under the bill, a disease may be declared an emergency if the cause is (1) a newly discovered pathogen or known disease expanding its geographic reach, species affected, or recognized impacts; (2) poses significant threats to the sustainability of a wildlife species; (3) is spreading rapidly; or (4) poses a significant threat to the health of a functioning ecosystem in a priority landscape.

In introducing his bill, Sen. Lautenberg said, ”We must ensure that the Fish and Wildlife Service and environmental scientists have every tool available to them as they fight devastating wildlife diseases like white-nose syndrome. … Without a quick response, white-nose syndrome could have a ripple effect that hurts the economy, environment, and public health.”

In a letter to Sen. Lautenberg supporting his legislation, AWI and other organizations pointed out that “New and emerging diseases pose a critical and growing threat to the health of wildlife.” The letter praises the Lautenberg bill because it “addresses serious gaps in wildlife disease emergency response,” and will “facilitate scientific discoveries and inform decisionmaking in the early stages of an outbreak,” when the expenditure of funds may avert a full-blown crisis and avoid even larger expenditures in the future.

AWI recently participated in congressional briefings on WNS sponsored by Sen. Lautenberg and Rep. James Moran (D-VA).