PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Two bat species are being proposed for the Maine endangered species list because they've been decimated by white nose syndrome, state officials said.
Recent cave counts of the northern long-eared bat and little brown bat show nearly 90 percent declines, officials said Wednesday. A third species, the eastern small-footed bat, has also declined, though not as much, and will be proposed for the state's threatened species list.
White nose syndrome was first discovered about eight years ago in New York and has since been confirmed in at least half the states in the country. The disease, caused by a fungus, turns muzzles of sickened bats white and interrupts hibernation, which robs them of energy and stored fat. It has killed more than 5.5 million bats.
A bat with white-nose syndrome is seen in a cave near Albany in 2006.
(Photo — Al Hicks, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)
Rapid bat die-offs have occurred in Maine caves recently because of the disease, said Charlie Todd, the endangered species coordinator for the state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. It's unclear what kind of protections the state can propose, but adding the species to the endangered list would be a start, he said.
"These are the kind of declines that sometimes take decades to fix," Todd said. "So we're in trouble."
Maine lawmakers would have to approve the addition to the endangered list. The last time that happened was in 2007. The Inland Fisheries & Wildlife list includes 45 endangered or threatened animals, only two of which are mammals: the New England cottontail and the northern bog lemming.
State officials will host two public hearings about the proposal, on Aug. 4 in Portland and on Aug. 5 in Farmington, a spokesman said. A proposal to list the species could be submitted to the state legislature in January, Todd said.
Protections could include restricting access to Maine caves, as humans can spread the disease, which isn't harmful to humans, on clothing, Todd said. The state could also put up gates on caves to reduce exposure, he said. A plan will be worked out in the coming months, Todd said.
Cave counts have shown 90 percent declines in the northern long-eared and little brown bat populations, while the eastern small-footed bat declined more than 60 percent, Todd said. A winter 2009 cave count of the three species found a total of 600 bats, while a 2012 count found only 50, he said.
The northern long-eared bat lives all over the state except for extreme northern Maine, while the eastern small-footed bat is found mostly in coastal Maine. The little brown bat lives all over the state. There are eight bat species in Maine.
State officials are also recommending the cobblestone tiger beetle, frigga butterfly and six-whorl vertigo snail for the endangered list.