Save the bats

Bats have not always had a ‘good press.’  They can seem scary, especially at Halloween time, and they have not been adequately understood, let alone appreciated.  Today our bat populations are being decimated by the spread of a deadly fungus that causes “white nose syndrome.”

An essential ingredient in saving America’s bats is in better understanding them and the key roles they play in agriculture and in the ecosystem.

{mosads}Vermont’s conservation ethic is deeply instilled in me, as it is in other Vermonters.  I’ve long been fascinated by the vital roles that bats play on our farms and in our protected lands.  When Vermont became one of the first states to face the decimation of white nose syndrome, I worked on the Senate Appropriations Committee, partnering with the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) of New Jersey, to make white nose syndrome a budget priority.

I’ve been a Batman fan since I was a boy.  Folks sometimes are amused to learn that we live not far from a bat cave that is near our farm in Middlesex, in rural Central Vermont.  As bat populations have declined in recent years, we see (and feel) an immediate correlation in the swarms of mosquitoes we cope with on warm Vermont evenings.  As bats disappear, mosquitoes increase.

My staff and I spent time with our State of Vermont bat scientists, including Scott Darling, a pre-eminent expert on bats, and saw the devastating impacts of white-nose syndrome on North American bat populations.  More than even before, I’ve become an advocate for these amazing mammals.

Bats are vital to the sustainability of natural ecosystems, national economies, and human health by controlling damaging insect pests, pollinating plants including fruits and vegetables, and dispersing seeds to ensure healthy functioning ecosystems.  Research suggests that bats save U.S. farmers at least $3 billion a year in pest control, and some years the value may be as high as $53 billion a year.  Bats are found on nearly every continent, providing valuable benefits to farmers worldwide.  Corn farmers alone benefit by more than $1 billion each year globally in crop damage prevention provided by hungry, insect-eating bats.  Those are big savings for farmers, thanks to bats patrolling the skies at night and gobbling up insects that eat or damage our crops.

North American bat populations are in crisis as the deadly fungus spreads throughout the Northeast, and now far beyond.  Congress has appropriated more than $35 million to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to lead the effort to understand and combat this mystery disease.  A coalition of scientists from state and federal agencies, universities and non-governmental organizations are working together to fight this disease.  For additional information and to learn what you can do, visit While we’ve learned much about this deadly fungus, bats are still dying, and far more needs to be done.

Raising awareness about the importance of bats to our national economy and human health is an important step in protecting and conserving bats.  That’s why I’ve partnered with a team of government, nonprofit, and private organizations to launch Bat Week – celebrated this year on October 25-31.  Now in its second year, Bat Week is intended to raise attention to the plight of bats, and their importance to us all.  This year we are coordinating bat house building events around the country to break a world record for building the most bat houses in a day – on Saturday, Oct. 31.  Building bat houses provides places for bats to live and an easy and affordable way for everyone to get involved in helping bats. It is no coincidence that we chose Halloween to run these events – a day when bat themes, costumes, stories and treats are found in every town and store in America. 

In fact, bats make possible all of the candies made with corn syrup including the favorite Halloween candy corn, and bats provide pest control for cocoa plants where chocolate comes from.  So it is fitting to take time during the Halloween festivities to recognize the importance of bats species to this national holiday.

While you are trick-or-treating with your children or grandchildren, handing out Halloween candy to the neighborhood kids, or attending a party, why not also take time on Halloween Day to build a bat house, or join a local bat house building activity.  Visit for an event near you and to learn more about bats.  It is clear that we need bats, but they also need us.

Leahy is Vermont’s senior senator, serving since 1975. He sits on the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; the Appropriations; the Judiciary; and the Rules and Administration committees.


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