Congress Needs to Hear Us NOW!

Aug 11, 2009

Congressional Update
(apologies for procedural detail, but it helps put the recommended actions in context)

The House bill has already passed. The Senate Appropriations Committee report is pending. However, my Senate staff contacts tell me it is likely the bill will not be voted on as stand-alone legislation, but rather wrapped into an Omnibus spending bill, as has been common in recent years.

The best opportunity for action is to have the Senate Appropriations Committee amend their own bill, or agree to support an amendment from a colleague. That can happen if we create the proper environment/buzz.

That means contacting Senators over the August recess.

If your Senator is on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, all the more important. Key Senators from White Nose States are Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee, and Robert Byrd, West Virginia. Sen. Feinstein, of California, as Chair, is an absolute must. Here is the complete list:

Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies

Democratic Subcommittee Members:
# Senator Dianne Feinstein (Chairman) (CA) - (202) 224-3841 - E-Mail
# Senator Robert C. Byrd (WV) - (202) 224-3954 - E-Mail
# Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) - (202) 224-4242 - E-Mail
# Senator Byron Dorgan (ND) - (202) 224-2551 - E-Mail
# Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD) - (202) 224-4654 - E-Mail
# Senator Herb Kohl (WI) - (202) 224-5653 - E-Mail
# Senator Tim Johnson (SD) - (202) 224-5842 - E-Mail
# Senator Jack Reed (RI) - (202) 224-4642 - E-Mail
# Senator Ben Nelson (NE) - (202) 224-5274 - E-Mail
# Senator Jon Tester (MT) - (202) 224-2644 - E-Mail

Republican Subcommittee Members:
# Senator Lamar Alexander (Ranking) (TN) - (202) 224-4944 - E-Mail
# Senator Thad Cochran (MS) - (202) 224-5054 - E-Mail
# Senator Robert Bennett (UT) - (202) 224-5444 - E-Mail
# Senator Judd Gregg (NH) - (202) 224-3324 - E-Mail
# Senator Lisa Murkowski (AK) - (202) 224-6665 - E-Mail
# Senator Susan Collins (ME) - (202) 224-2523 - E-Mail

A listing of the full Senate Appropriations Committee can be found here.

If your Senator is not on the Appropriations Committee, ask them to talk to their colleagues who are and support significant research funding for White Nose Syndrome. That's the simple action you are asking them to do. You can express your concern about WNS, bats, caving, etc., but it's the action that's important. If the Subcommittee members hear enough concern from their colleagues, they will look for the details and take action. We are making sure the Appropriations Committee members have the details, but you all need to create the buzz.

Contact info for all other Senators can be found here.
Contact info for House Representatives can be found here.


* Call their home offices and tell them you are concerned about White Nose Syndrome.

* Tell them that you are aware that the Senate Appropriations Committee report (111-38, dated July 7) contains only $500,000 of the $11 million identified by the scientific community for immediate research.

* $500,000 just for monitoring will mean critical research needed to get out ahead of the spread of WNS will not occur this year.

* Tell them that the language for "increased monitoring" does not equal "research." It's very limiting. As one biologist said, "We're here to prevent species extinction, not just observe it." Another said, "We can 'monitor and surveille' until the cows come home, but it won't get us closer to an answer."

* While tempting, this is not the time to discuss policy issues - this is purely an appropriations debate at this time. Certainly, if asked, reply honestly about your concerns as a constituent - about caving access, the lack of good science driving management decisions, frustrations, whatever, but bring it back to the fact that funding for research is needed now.

Sample paragraphs:

Here are a few paragraphs from some of my own communications with my Vermont delegation and others:

We need to have the research questions about the White Nose fungus, it's transmission, and potential treatments answered. How quickly will it spread to the major bat colonies of Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, Missouri, Texas, and beyond? How do we ensure that our management approaches are guided by sound science? How do we ensure that we consider the entirety of our cave ecosystems, and the larger environment, with our mitigation strategies?

We need to recognize the seasonal nature of bat research - that the hibernation and summer cycles only permit certain types of research during limited windows of time. Not having the resources to conduct imminently needed research means an entire year goes by without answers, and WNS continues to devastate bat colonies.

WNS will continue to be spread quickly by bats. We need to have a mechanism for quick delivery of significant funding.

Key point:

Senators or their staff will listen to your case but ultimately end at one point: So, what do you want us to do?
Answer: Provide significant research funding for WNS - much closer to the level recommended by the scientific community. If you are a Senator on the Appropriations Committee, please work to bring a better number and language to the floor and conference committee. If you are a Senator not on the Appropriations Committee, please talk to your colleagues who are to ensure this happens.

Ask them to keep you informed - tell you what happened when they did talk to them. And please send me that feedback, if you would be so kind. That feedback is very important for determining next steps. Finally, thank them. Please, thank them.

Hope this helps those of you able and willing to make the contacts. Thank you for your efforts. They have helped so far, but now is an extremely critical time to maintain the effort. As Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over 'till it's over."

For continuing information on this critical issue, please see the CaveChat Topic "Congress Needs to Hear Us NOW!"

Peter Youngbaer
NSS 16161
WNS Liaison



Important Action Needed Now for WNS Funding

Folks, this is it. We have one more crucial thing we must do to secure additional research funding from Congress. We need calls NOW - Today - This Week. It will make a difference.

Here's the background scoop: Any funding for WNS research will come through the Department of Interior Appropriations Bill. As we told you previously, a version has passed the House and a different version has passed the Senate. The Bill is now in what's called a Conference Committee where the differences get ironed out. The House added no new money; the Senate only $500,000. I've spoken with several Senators and Representatives and their staff members, and there is a move to significantly increase the amount in Conference Committee. The response has been positive, and we are optimistic, But it will depend on how much they hear from constituents - that means YOU!

Here's the Action: We are only contacting four key members of the Conference Committee: Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior Chair Diane Feinstein (CA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (TN) and House Subcommittee on Interior Chair Norman Dicks (WA)and Ranking Member Michael Simpson (ID). It is very important that if you live in their states you contact them. If you don't live in their states, but know cavers who do, please urge them to make the contact.

Below are the Washington phone numbers of these four key people. Ask for their Environmental Legislative Aide. Or, if you call their state office, ask for their State Director.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Chairman) (CA)- (202) 224-3841 [Contact information for Senator, Aides and State Directors can be found at]

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Ranking) (TN)- (202) 224-4944 [Contact information for Senator, Aides and State Directors can be found at] His State Director is Patrick Jaynes - (865) 545-4253

Congressman Norman Dicks (D-Chairman) (WA)- (202) 225-5916 [Contact information for the Congressman, Aides and State Directors can be found at] His Environmental Aide is Greg Knadle -(202) 225-3081. He is very knowledgeable about WNS, but needs to hear that there is strong support. I've spoken with him - he's very friendly - but he needs to hear from you in order for Congressman Dicks to agree to House putting in more money.

Congressman Michael Simpson (R-Ranking) (ID)- (202) 225-5531 [Contact information for the Congressman, Aides and State Directors can be found at]

Here's the Message: Your message should be asking the member to "support significantly increased funding for research and prevention of WNS." Please don’t mention a dollar amount or any proposed amendments. Since the Committee hasn’t met yet, members will be unaware of these specifics and it will only serve to confuse things. The better message is that there is broad based support for increasing funding to stop this deadly disease that's killing our bats. Keep it simple.

Here's a Sample Phone Call: Hi, this is Caver Sue. I'm a constituent of the Senator, living in Sinking Springs. I'm calling regarding the Interior Appropriations Conference Committee. I'm urging the Senator to support significantly increased funding for research and prevention of White Nose Syndrome, the disease that is killing all the bats. As someone who spends a lot of time in caves myself, I know how important bats are to the ecosystem, given that they eat up to their own weight in insects every night. White Nose Syndrome is spreading fast, and I urge the Senator to support significant funding to get out ahead of the disease. Thank you.

Keep it Simple. They may ask you some questions. Speak honestly, sincerely, but positively. Thank them.

I'd appreciate hearing any feedback from your contacts. Fellow cavers - this is important. Not only for the bats, but for demonstrating the strength and commitment of the NSS and organized caving. I strongly believe our efforts here will help re-open caves more quickly. Please act now. Thank you.

Peter Youngbaer
NSS 16161
WNS Liaison