A survey taken over the winter shows that white-nose syndrome has spread to new sites in Wisconsin, including Douglas County, and is starting to take a toll on the bat population.
The fungal disease has been spreading across the country from New York and is now found in 28 states and into Canada. Estimates are that upwards of 6 million bats have died from the disease that causes hibernating bats to wake frequently, depleting their energy and causing them to die of starvation, or the cold.
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources conservation biologist Paul White tells KDAL that the disease may have spread to Douglas County from the Soudan Mine area of Minnesota or from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Tests over the winter have found the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome has been found in 42 of 74 sites examined and shows a 94 percent drop in the bat population in Grant County where the disease was first found in the state in 2014.
Bats are an important part of the ecosystem and are voracious insect eaters. A recent study shows that bats save the Wisconsin agriculture industry up to 1.5 billion dollars a year in pesticide costs.