Annual Halloween Week Observance Raises Awareness to Reduce Human Disturbance to Endangered and Threatened Bats
In observance of the annual, internationally recognized Bat Week, Oct. 24-31, which raises awareness about the critical role of bats in our environment, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today urged outdoor adventurers to avoid visiting caves and mines during the fall and winter months. Bats hibernate in many of these underground cavities, where relatively constant, warm temperatures protect bats from noise and harsh winter temperatures above ground. Human disturbance is especially harmful to New York's bat populations since the arrival of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that has killed more than 90 percent of bats at hibernation sites in the state.
"With Halloween fast approaching, DEC is urging outdoor adventurers to steer clear of caves and mines to protect New York's at-risk bat populations," Commissioner Seggos said. "Right now, bats hunkering down in their winter homes are highly susceptible to disturbance from even the quietest cave visits. If disturbed, bats will wake from hibernation and expend significantly more energy than normal, increasing the harm caused by the white-nose disease. If explorers do venture out and come across hibernating bats in a cave, I urge these visitors to leave quickly and quietly."
DEC reminds the public to follow all posted notices restricting access to caves and mines. When bats are disturbed during hibernation, it forces them to raise their body temperature, depleting crucial fat reserves. This stored fat is the only source of energy available to the bats until the weather warms in spring and insects become readily available. The more frequently bats are disturbed, the less likely they are to survive the winter.
Bat Week is observed through Oct. 31, and is organized by representatives from conservation groups and government agencies in the U.S. and Canada.
In recent years, scientists have found some evidence of recovery of the once-common little brown bat throughout New York State. While this apparent stabilization provides a hopeful outlook after more than a decade of devastating declines, similar evidence of stabilization is not yet seen for other severely affected bat species. Two species of bats are currently protected under federal and State endangered species law. The Indiana bat, which is sparsely distributed across New York, is a federally endangered bat listed before white-nose syndrome began affecting bat populations. The northern long-eared bat is protected as a threatened species under federal and New York State endangered species law. The current population for this formerly common bat is approximately one percent of its previous size, making this species the most severely affected by white-nose syndrome. Nonetheless, northern long-eared bats are still widely distributed in New York and their presence has been documented in most of the state's approximately 100 caves and mines serving as bat hibernation sites.
Anyone entering a northern long-eared bat hibernation site from Oct. 1 through April 30, the typical hibernation period for bats, may be subject to prosecution.
There is currently no treatment for bats suffering from white-nose syndrome. Along with the New York State Department of Health, DEC is partnering with researchers from the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, and experts at universities across the country to better understand the disease and develop a treatment. This collaborative effort helped identify that reducing disturbances at hibernation sites during the winter can help the remaining animals survive. For more information about white-nose syndrome, visit the White-Nose Syndrome Response Team website. Details about the protection of the northern long-eared bat can be found on DEC's website.