NEW YORK (WWTI) — Wildlife experts are urging outdoor recreationists to steer clear of bats this fall.

In observance of International Bat Week, which begins on Sunday, October 24, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos urged adventurers to safeguard bats during the week of awareness.

“Bat Week” aims to raise awareness about the “critical role of bats in the environment, and Commissioner Seggos urged all to avoid visiting caves and mines during the fall and winter months as this is where bats go to hibernate.

Commissioner Seggos said that human disturbance has been especially harmful to the New York bat population since the arrival of white-nose syndrome, a fungus, which has killed over 90% of bats in hibernation sites.

“With Halloween fast approaching, DEC is urging outdoor adventurers to steer clear of caves and mines to protect New York’s at-risk bat populations,” Commissioner Seggos said in a press release. “Right now, bats hunkering down in their winter homes are highly susceptible to disturbance from even the quietest cave visits. If disturbed, bats will wake from hibernation and expend significantly more energy than normal, increasing the harm caused by the white-nose disease. If explorers do venture out and come across hibernating bats in a cave, I urge these visitors to leave quickly and quietly.”

Currently, there are two species of bats that are protected under and State endangered species laws. This includes the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat. Both, along with the once-common little brown bat, have been severely impacted by the white-nose syndrome.

According to the DEC, there is no treatment for bats suffering from white-nose syndrome. The New York State Department of Health, DEC is partnering with researchers from the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, and experts at universities across the country to better understand the disease and develop a treatment. 

However, the DEC stated that northern long-eared bats are still widely distributed in New York and their presence has been documented in most of the state’s approximately 100 caves and mines serving as bat hibernation sites.

Those who are found to enter a northern long-eared hibernation site from October 1 through April 30 may be subject to prosecution.

The annual International Bat Week will run from October 24 to October 31, 2021.