Wildlife Health Initiative
Wildlife diseases are a leading threat to biological diversity and ecosystem sustainability in the United States. Yet, harmful pathogens and parasites affecting our native animals are not adequately regulated. A policy opportunity, spurred by an amphibian disease crisis, has emerged to remedy this gaping failure and bring Federal law into the modern age.
In 2013, scientists learned of a major new threat to global wildlife health, an infectious disease called Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal). Bsal was identified in Northern Europe and caused severe local declines of native salamander species. In 2014, we learned of its potential threat to many other salamander species across the globe. Originally a naturally occurring pathogen from Asia, Bsal is being dispersed through the animal trade and it continues to spread. It likely will afflict North America – unless stopped. Once in the environment there is no method for eradicating Bsal and its incursion could cause massive declines in many North American Salamander species.
Over the last two decades, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a closely related fungal pathogen to Bsal, wiped out many amphibian populations in the Americas and Australasia. As many as 200 amphibian species were significantly impacted by Bd with some species driven close to extinction. Bsal has the potential to inflict the same harm specifically on salamanders. Because the United States is the global epicenter of diversity, with approximately 30% of the world’s 676 total salamander species, the arrival and spread of Bsal here could be catastrophic.
The existing statute, a section of the Lacey Act (18 U.S. Code 42), is non-comprehensive and needs supplanting with a modern approach. In addition to the exceedingly slow response to Bsal, other recent examples include these devastating outbreaks: Whitenose Syndrome that is sweeping through North American bats; chytrid fungus in frogs and toads, which has globally been the most widespread and deadly wildlife diseases ever known; and an emerging and very alarming Snake Fungal Disease that must be checked in order to preserve America’s diverse native snake biota. Unfortunately, more such incursions are expected unless we act.
Lack of effective authority over wildlife diseases contrasts sharply with U.S. law on diseases of farm animals, for which immediate and comprehensive prevention and response authority is administered by the Department of Agriculture. The same is true for human pathogen response: the Centers for Disease Control can take swift emergency action.
The failure to proactively prevent wildlife pathogen incursions is a glaring deviation from the now accepted “One Health” paradigm that is so important in this globalized world to conserve biodiversity – and protect human wellbeing and the economy. The goal of this project is to fix that failure.
Our objective is to develop and then, with broad stakeholder support, pass new legislation through Congress to remedy the existing gap. This legislation will result in transformative change in how wildlife-to-wildlife transmitted diseases will be managed, including prevention and surveillance activities. It will provide new, clear authority for the USFWS, giving the agency the ability to be proactive and protect all of America’s wildlife species.
Wildlife diseases are a leading threat to biological diversity and ecosystem sustainability in the United States. Yet, harmful pathogens and parasites affecting our native animals are not adequately regulated. There is little doubt that in the next few years the United States will be under threat once again from an Emerging Infectious Disease that current policy is ineffective at combating.
Establishment of a collaborative Wildlife Health Initiative to address current wildlife health policy gaps.
Due to the momentum established through our Bsal work we are implementing the Wildlife Health Initiative immediately and will be hosting Congressional educational meetings as soon as funding is secured. Our aim to have a bill fully supported and moved through Congress over the next two years, allowing ample time to build stakeholder support and provide the necessary opportunities for Congressional staff to learn more about the issues and opportunities.
The total budget for the initiative from the development stage to completion is USD 215,000.
Your donation will make an immediate, real, and lasting impact. As a global alliance with partners generous enough to cover our operational costs, we are able to channel 100% of your donations directly to helping save these amphibians.