WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “Examining the Impacts of Diseases on Wildlife Conservation and Management.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am glad you brought us together today to discuss the serious issues posed by wildlife diseases.
“Over the past few decades, wildlife diseases have spread rapidly across the United States. These diseases often have far-reaching impacts on ecosystems, human health and the economy, and they present significant challenges for wildlife managers.
“In Delaware, we’ve seen the devastating effects that disease can have on our wildlife, including amphibians, birds, and bats. Since its discovery in New York in 2007, White-Nose syndrome has killed more than 6 million bats and spread to 33 states. In Delaware, White-Nose syndrome has wiped out entire populations of state-endangered little brown bats, which provide an important ecosystem service to our farmers – pest control. In fact, one study estimated that the economic value of bats to agriculture tops $3.7 billion annually, and that is a conservative estimate.
“Our country is also grappling with wildlife diseases that mosquitos and ticks transmit to humans and livestock. West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis, and Lyme are all diseases that these pesky insects transmit to wildlife, livestock and humans, with devastating impacts for the economy and human health. Because these diseases cross state and jurisdictional boundaries, addressing wildlife disease is a challenge that requires cooperation and collaboration between many parties.
“I look forward to hearing from our expert witnesses about examples of partnerships between federal agencies, states, tribes and other parties to address wildlife disease, such as the White-Nose Syndrome Response Team.
“I am also interested to hear more today about how our nation’s wildlife scientists and managers – at both the state and federal level – are working together to address the spread of wildlife disease. I would encourage our witnesses to identify areas of opportunity for expanded research and innovative management actions.
“In considering solutions to prevent the further spread of wildlife disease, however, we would be remiss to overlook the fundamental drivers of this problem, including climate change and habitat loss. We know that temperature, rainfall, and humidity affect the abundance and spread of disease, and we are seeing these impacts firsthand in Delaware.
“With warmer and wetter weather, new mosquito species, such as the Asian tiger mosquito, are taking residence in the First State. Mosquito season is also growing longer. In Wilmington, our mosquito season now averages 142 days long, and it was only 117 days long in the 1980s. As a result, we’ve seen an increase in cases of mosquito-borne diseases among wildlife, livestock and Delawareans. What’s more, change in human land use is causing declines in biodiversity, making species more vulnerable to emerging diseases by causing habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation. So when we talk about wildlife disease, we must also consider how our nation’s extinction crisis is impacting its spread.
“I would also note that this wide range of challenges magnifies the need for strong leadership at the agencies charged with managing wildlife. During our committee’s business meeting just a few weeks ago, I expressed concern about the administration’s nominee to lead the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, due in part to her reluctance to fully disclose information about her previous employment and experience at the Department of Interior to this Committee. Unfortunately, those concerns remain largely unaddressed today.
“I’ll end with this: by working together and taking a science-based, holistic approach, I believe we can develop smart solutions that address both the root causes and the symptoms of wildlife disease. Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today and to our witnesses for joining us. I look forward to bipartisan collaboration on this issue.”