Since 2007 the U.S. Department of the Interior has spent more than $11 million to learn more about a disease, white-nose syndrome, that is devastating bat populations throughout the Northeast. But scientists still don't know enough to combat the disease, which is spreading.
Interior Department officials have announced announced a new initiative against the diseasebut few details and known.
Many people really don't like bats. Many are afraid of them, in large measure because of superstition and lack of knowledge.
But bats are key components in many ecosystems. In some regions they provide irreplacable control of insects. Allowing white-nose syndrome to destroy U.S. bat populations would be an ecological disaster.
Not enough is known about white-nose syndrome to stop it. The primary strategy against it to date has been to close caves with bat populations, because of a fear the disease may be spread by spelunkers.
Hundreds of caves in the eastern United States, some on federal land and others privately owned, have been closed for that reason.
Clearly, more needs to be done about white-nose syndrome - quickly. We applaud the Interior Department's initiative and hope it represents a real dedication to commit the resources needed to find out what causes the disease and how bats can be protected from it.