The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has been awarded nearly $25,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand research and monitoring of a deadly disease affecting bat populations that may have habitat in Hall County.
Georgia is one of 35 states and the District of Columbia to receive grants totaling about $1 million for projects related to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease first discovered in New York about eight years ago that has killed many bat populations.
“White-nose syndrome has now been confirmed in 26 states and five Canadian provinces,” Dr. Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the USFWS, said in a statement. “These grants provide essential support to our state partners in preparing for and responding to this disease.”
In April, the USFWS announced that it is protecting the northern long-eared bat as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act because of white-nose syndrome, a move that delayed the release of a draft environmental impact statement for the proposed Glades Reservoir project in North Hall.
The new protections are designed to safeguard the bats when they are most vulnerable, according to the USFWS, including during hibernation and the pup-rearing season from June through July.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners allocated $150,000 in May for a study to determine if the northern long-eared bat has habitat in the Glades Reservoir project area after sightings were reported.
According to Hall County officials, no threatened or endangered bats have been caught in nets located in the Glades project area, and therefore no monitoring devices have been placed on potentially affected bats.
“As a result, the cost of the project is not expected to reach that $150,000 mark,” county spokeswoman Katie Crumley told The Times.
According to the USFWS, the Georgia DNR has proposed to use the federal grant money to help cover salaries for biologists and other staff involved in field work for the white-nose syndrome response; travel expenses to a national white-nose syndrome workshop next year; equipment and supplies for field surveys and outreach efforts, including bat handling and decontamination supplies, education and outreach materials, and acoustical bat detectors; as well as a contract for cave and white-nose syndrome surveys.
The Glades Reservoir DEIS was scheduled for release in March, but was pushed back when the USFWS proposed the new protections for the northern long-eared bat after significant and severe bat population declines and loss of traditional habitats across the nation.
“Bats are a critical component of our nation’s ecology and economy, maintaining a fragile insect predator-prey balance; we lose them at our peril,” USFWS Director Dan Ashe said in a statement. “Without bats, insect populations can rise dramatically, with the potential for devastating losses for our crop farmers and foresters. The alternative to bats is greater pesticide use, which brings with it another set of ecological concerns.”
And a final EIS had been scheduled for release in the fall, with a permitting decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coming in December.
The currently adjusted timeline now schedules the DEIS for release this month or next, with a 45-day public comment period to follow.
A final EIS will come in March 2016, with a decision from the Corps proposed for May or June.
The county has spent more than $15 million to date on Glades, including costs for acquiring land.
Supporters of the proposed 850-acre Glades Reservoir in the Upper Chattahoochee River Basin say it will add about 40 million gallons per day to the water supply of Northeast Georgia at an estimated $130 million cost to Hall County.
Opponents counter that it is an “amenity lake” with steep economic and environmental costs and little tangible benefit.