They are amazing, beneficial, and little understood, but Wisconsin bats are in dire danger, from a disease which is decimating bats across North America. Department of Natural Resources bat ecologist Dave Redell said White-Nose Syndrome, found in New York in 2007, has now spread to 18 states and four Canadian provinces. The disease was not found in Wisconsin in 2011, but Redell believes it’s only a matter of time. “It’s not if, it’s more likely when,” Redell said. “I wouldn’t have been surprised if it showed up last year.” They should know soon whether the overwhelmingly fatal disease reached Wisconsin this year. “There’s very little awareness building,” Redell said, “If people understand the drastic nature – this has never been experienced before with any mammal in North America. It’s very devastating. We’re looking at multiple species decline, and possible extinction.”
AUDIO: Dave Redell interview (17:00)
As to why we should care, Redell points to recent studies, which have shown bats are beneficial to agriculture, as they eat crop pests. “In Wisconsin alone, they found anywhere from $658 million up to $1.5 billion a year in insect services from bats in Wisconsin,” he said. There are more 300,000 little brown bats which hibernate in Wisconsin, making them the most numerous of the eight species found in the state.
Redell said people can help simply by raising awareness. You can also volunteer to help track bats with the Wisconsin Bat Monitoring Program, check on their health in bat houses, or make a financial contribution, since non-game species such as bats receive no program revenues through the sales of licenses by the DNR. “We’ve got a conservation endowment set up through the Natural Resources Foundation, supporting bat conservation in Wisconsin in perpetuity,” Redell said. There will be an opportunity to see several bat species close up, and learn more about them, at the Wisconsin Bat Festival, May 12th at Warner Park in Madison.