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Green Scene: Save the Bats

If it seems as though there are more mosquitoes biting you this summer, you might not be imagining things.  White-Nose Syndrome, named for the white fungus that covers the faces of afflicted bats, has been killing off hundreds of thousands of bats, including huge percentages of the area’s bat population as they hibernate in caves—meaning the lake could be losing one of its top bug predators.

Photo by Al Hicks, New York Department of Environmental Conservation

In addition to eating up to 3,000 insects in a given night, bats are pollinators of fruits and vegetables. For these reasons, federal, state, and local officials are looking into a management plan, which they hope to have in place by September. Earlier this month, federal officials said they were prepared to spend up to $2.5 million to battle the disease this year, tackling a condition that was first found in New York, but has been discovered in bat carcasses in caves in nine states, from Vermont down to Virginia. Once the disease hits a colony of bats, it wipes out 75 to 90 percent of the individuals.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asks that hikers avoid hiking in caves, to help reduce the spread of the condition (fungus can be transmitted from your clothes), but if you find afflicted bats while hiking, the service asks that you report it to state officials or email whitenosebats@fws.gov. (If you come across dead bats on your own property, be sure to pick them up using a plastic bag over your hand or disposable gloves. Place the bat and the bag into another plastic bag, spray with disinfectant, close the bag securely, dispose with your garbage, and thoroughly wash yourself and any clothing that might have come in contact with the bat.)

To help bats that have survived, think about putting up a bat house on your property. It’s not a simple proposition: the box should be at least ten feet above the ground in an open area facing south-southeast and receive at least seven hours of direct sun, and preferably be within 1,500 feet of a permanent stream or pond. So talk to an expert about where you could place such a structure on your property.

And be prepared for more bugs. In the absence of bats and other predators, citronella candles and natural bug repellant are the most eco-friendly options out there.

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