You Can Help Save Our Endangered Bats
By Deb Markowitz, Vermont Secretary of Natural Resources
Some years ago, when the kids were young and my husband was out of town on business, I discovered a couple of bats flitting around the house. Quickly, the house erupted into chaos with bats flying, children screaming and running around, and me – trying to figure out how to open the windows (still caulked from the winter) while avoiding the darting bats. I was unsuccessful. Finally, I corralled the kids into a room and closed the door and called a friend who calmly caught the bats in a large sheet and then safely released them outside. The emergency was over.
I don’t know for sure what kinds of bats were in my house that early spring day – but most likely they were little brown bats. Until recently, the little brown bat was one of two species most often found in and around our homes, attics, barns, and garages. Due to a devastating illness, these populations have shrunk by as much as 95 percent. Just three years ago little brown bats were Vermont’s most common bat species, and now they are one of the rarest in the state. Consequently, as of this month, the little brown bat along with the northern long-eared bat have been added to Vermont’s Endangered Species list. This requires all of us to rethink how we treat our encounters with bats.
White Nose Syndrome now threatens as many as 25 species of cave-hibernating bats across the United States. In Vermont alone, we have already lost over 500,000 bats. Two of these species – the little brown bat and the northern long-eared bat – have experienced declines by as much as 90 percent or more. Unless we find a way to slow the disease the little brown bat, among others, could become extinct within the next 15 years.
Why Bats are Important
Bats are important to our ecosystems because they pollinate plants and flowers, spread seeds, and, of course, eat insects. In fact, these little creatures eat nearly one-half their weight on a given night. Some of these insects are forest and agricultural pests – and others, like the mosquito – are human pests.
The impact of the loss of bats in Vermont cannot be underestimated. The 500,000 bats that died from white nose disease would have eaten around 2.5 billion insects every night – a figure that is so high, it is hard to imagine. A recently published national study found that bats contribute as much as $32 million annually in value to Vermont by destroying insects that could damage crops.
What We are Doing at the Agency of Natural Resources
This month both the little brown bat and the northern long-eared bat will be listed as state endangered species. We listed these bats on the advice of biologists in the Fish and Wildlife Department and the Vermont Endangered Species committee, with the support of many members of the public. We all believe that the protection offered by this status will help buy these species some time, so that we can, hopefully, find a treatment for White Nose disease before it is too late.
As a practical matter, once a species is listed as “endangered” members of that species cannot be taken, harassed, or killed without getting special permission. This means that pest control companies that remove bats from a chimney must take care to relocate them in a safe manner – rather than just kill them. It means that we must all avoid entering caves and mines in the winter when we know there is a colony of endangered bats hibernating within. And it means that when we encounter bats in places they don’t belong – like our homes and barns – that we find a safe way to remove them.
How You Can Help
Until a treatment is available we need to all work together to prevent unnecessary harm to Vermont’s endangered bats – and you can help.
We take concerns about rabies transmission from bats very seriously. The goal of the state is to provide technical assistance to citizens and pest control companies to appropriately deal with and exclude these bats from homes. Avoiding interactions with bats avoids bites and scratches from the small number of bats that carry rabies. Because such bites and scratches are serious, despite the endangered species listing, Vermonters will still be able to kill a bat in order to have it tested for rabies when a possible exposure has occurred, so long as the killing is reported to Fish and Wildlife officials.
I know from experience how hard it is to think straight when a bat is flying around the house – but it is more important now, than ever to remove bats without hurting them. You can get more information about best practices for keeping bats out of your house and removing them safely at our website www.vtfishandwildlife.com.
Remember, the little things we do can make a big difference. Help us help our bats.