Biologists are on the lookout for signs of a spreading fungus that could affect bats in Wisconsin.
Signs of the deadly white nose syndrome have been found in neighboring states and as close as 30 miles from the Wisconsin border, but haven’t yet appeared here.
DNR Conservation Biologist Paul White says preventative measures may have helped. All cave bats in Wisconsin are listed as threatened, and officials enforce decontamination procedures at public caving sites.
“I’m not going to say luck doesn’t have anything to do with it, but just having these regulations and strict protocols in place we think has helped not only in creating awareness, but also reducing the risk from us, transporting it from site to site.”
White nose syndrome is believed to spread mostly from bat to bat, but also occasionally on human clothing or shoes. It causes bats to wake up early from winter hibernation, burning up their stores of fat.
DNR biologists are checking critical winter hibernation grounds like caves and old mine sites for signs of the fungus.
“The majority of our bats, unfortunately around 95, 96 percent of our bats are located in only a couple different areas of the state. Compare that to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where you have actually quite a few hibernacula – it’s more of a distributed population along the landscape.”
Wisconsin hosts some of the world’s largest hibernating populations of little brown bats.
A recent study put the economic impact of bats at as high as $1.5 billion dollars, due to the insects they eat that would otherwise damage agricultural crops.
The DNR is urging people to report bats seen flying at this time of year, since that could indicate unusual behavior due to sickness.
Interested citizens can also get involved in the DNR’s bat monitoring programs during the spring, summer and fall.