(WNY News Now) – In light of Bat Week (Oct. 24-31), a global initiative to raise awareness about the vital role of bats in the ecosystem, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos has appealed to the public to avoid caves and mines during fall and winter to safeguard hibernating bats, which are under threat from white-nose syndrome.
Albany – In recognition of Bat Week, an internationally recognized event aimed at increasing awareness of the critical ecological role of bats, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos has urged outdoor enthusiasts to refrain from visiting caves and mines during the fall and winter months. Bats spend the winter hibernating in these underground cavities, where constant, warm temperatures shield them from harsh winter conditions above ground. However, bats’ health is susceptible to human disturbance, especially in the presence of white-nose syndrome, a lethal fungus responsible for the death of more than 90 percent of bats in New York’s hibernation sites.
“Bats are circling around us this Halloween season, reminding us all to do our part to protect these important flying mammals,” Commissioner Seggos said. “DEC is encouraging New Yorkers to help protect bats by avoiding caves or mines to prevent any unintentional harm to bats and safeguarding their habitats.”
Disturbing bats during hibernation causes them to raise their body temperature, depleting essential fat reserves, which serve as their sole energy source until spring when insects become readily available. Frequent disturbances significantly reduce their chances of surviving the long winter months without access to food. DEC emphasizes the importance of respecting posted notices that restrict access to caves and mines. If explorers do encounter hibernating bats in a cave, DEC urges them to exit quickly and quietly to minimize disruption.
To protect bats during the hibernation period, limiting tree removal is crucial. Removing trees is only recommended between Nov. 1 and March 31 statewide, and between Dec. 1 and Feb. 28 in Suffolk County, to provide the best protection for hibernating bats. During the active season, bats roost in trees and establish maternity colonies for rearing their pups. Removing trees during this period can potentially harm bats using trees for these behaviors.
Bat Week is observed annually through October 3 and is coordinated by conservation groups and government agencies in the United States and Canada.
Recent years have shown signs of recovery in the once-common little brown bat population across New York State. Although this stabilization offers hope after a decade of severe population declines, similar improvements have not been observed in other severely affected bat species.
Two bat species are currently protected under federal and New York State endangered species laws. The Indiana bat, with a sparse distribution in New York, was listed as a federally endangered species before white-nose syndrome took a toll on bat populations. The northern long-eared bat is also listed as an endangered species under both federal and state laws. Its population has shrunk to approximately one percent of its former size, making it the most severely affected by white-nose syndrome. Despite this, northern long-eared bats are widespread in New York, and their presence has been documented in most of the state’s roughly 100 caves and mines serving as bat hibernation sites.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed protecting a third New York species, the tri-colored bat, as an endangered species on September 13, 2022. Even before experiencing a 98-percent population decline due to white-nose disease, tri-colored bats were rare in New York.
Individuals entering a northern long-eared bat hibernation site from October 1 through April 30, the typical hibernation period, may face legal repercussions. Further details about the protection of the northern long-eared bat can be found on DEC’s website.
Currently, there is no known treatment for bats affected by white-nose syndrome. DEC, in collaboration with the New York State Department of Health, is partnering with researchers from the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, and experts at universities across the country to gain a better understanding of the disease and develop a potential treatment. This collaborative effort has highlighted that minimizing disturbances at hibernation sites during the winter can improve the chances of survival for the remaining bat populations. For more information on white-nose syndrome, please visit the White-Nose Syndrome Response Team website.