More than 99 percent of Pennsylvania's bats have died from white-nose syndrome, prompting state and federal authorities to consider listing several bat species as endangered.
The state's timber, oil and gas industries fear that giving bats protected status would hurt business and lead to job loss.
“I'm not sure that it can get much worse than what's already happened in Pennsylvania. The state has had more losses of bats than any other state in the country,” said Katie Gillis, a biologist for Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas.
Researchers documented instances of the fungus in nine bat species in 21 U.S. states and 4 Canadian provinces. It has killed more than 5.7 million bats nationwide since its discovery in a New York cave six years ago.
The fungus damages bats' connective tissues, muscles and skin and disrupts hybernation. Bats wake up dehydrated and hungry during colder months when they cannot find insects to eat. A white fungus encircles the noses of some, but not all, infected bats.
In Pennsylvania, the state Game Commission is soliciting comments about giving endangered status to the tri-colored bat, the little brown bat and the northern long-eared bat.