The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is urging outdoor adventurers to suspend exploration of cave and mine sites that serve as homes for hibernating bats.
Anyone entering a northern long-eared bat hibernation site from October 1 through April 30, the typical period of hibernation for bats, may be subject to prosecution.
Human disturbances are harmful to the state’s bat population following the spread of the disease known as white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than 90 percent of bats at most hibernation sites in New York since it was first discovered in a popular cave near Albany.
“Research generated by DEC’s Wildlife Diversity staff and our partners demonstrates that white-nose syndrome makes bats highly susceptible to disturbances,”acting DEC Commissioner Marc Gerstman said in a statement sent to the press. “Even a single, seemingly quiet visit can kill bats that would otherwise survive the winter. If you see hibernating bats, assume you are doing harm and leave immediately.”
Experts believe that when bats are disturbed during hibernation periods, it forces them to raise their body temperatures, which causes their fat reserves to be depleted. This affects their energy levels and places the bats in a comprised state, which can often lead to death.
There are two species of bats currently protected under federal and state endangered species law. The Indiana bat, which is sparsely distributed across New York and beyond, is a federally threatened bat that was listed before white-nose syndrome began impacting bat populations.
The northern long-eared bat is protected as a threatened species under both federal and NY State Endangered Species law. The current population for this formerly common bat is approximately one percent of its previous size, making it the species most severely affected by white-nose syndrome. Nonetheless, northern long-eared bats are widely distributed in New York. Their presence is documented in most of the 100 or so caves and mines that serve as bat hibernation sites in the State.
There is currently no treatment for addressing the impact of white-nose syndrome. Researchers say that reducing disturbances at hibernation sites during the winter and reducing disturbances at roosting sites in the summer can help the surviving animals thrive.
By cutting trees during the winter, direct impacts to roosting bats can be avoided. DEC also encourages homeowners seeking to remove bats from their attics or barns to explore non-lethal means.
If you encounter hibernating bats while underground you should leave the area as quickly and quietly as possible.
The Adirondacks is home to a dozen bat species. You can learn about all of them in a series of stories by Ellen Rathbone.
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