Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Helping bats, helps agriculture

Hector Castro

Bats in Washington state need our help.

Recently, a bat infected with a deadly disease called white-nose syndrome was found near North Bend in King County. The disease, which is not a threat to people, pets or other animals, has been blamed for 6 million bat deaths in eastern North America since it was first detected in New York a decade ago, and its appearance in Washington is cause for concern.

Bats are an essential part of our state’s ecosystem, and they provide real benefit to farmers in the form of pest control. In fact, the pest control provided by bats is estimated at being worth a minimum of $3.7 billion to the American agriculture industry.

Our partners at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) estimate that a colony of bats can consume tons of insects that would otherwise attack crops and forest lands. Some species of bats also help disperse plant seeds and aid in pollination.

White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease that causes white, fuzzy fungus to grow on the nose, ears, and wings of an infected bat. It can damage wings and other skin tissue, as well as rouse bats from hibernation so they use fat reserves, leading to possible starvation and death. In Washington, there are 15 different species of bats and it’s not yet clear how many could be affected by this disease.

If you notice bat activity in your area, the WDFW would like to know.
  • If you spot a group of live bats, or a sick or dead bat, report it at www.wdfw.wa.gov/bats or call WDFW at (360) 902-2515.
  • Don’t handle a live bat! If you must touch a dead bat, wear gloves for protection.
White-nose syndrome is primarily spread by bat-to-bat contact, but people can carry fungal spores on clothing, shoes or recreation equipment that has come in contact with the fungus. The WDFW offers the following recommendations to help control the spread of this disease:
  • Avoid areas where bats live to limit spreading the disease. Keep dogs out, too, since they may carry the fungus to new sites.
  • If you enter areas where bats are living, like crevices in rock cliffs, buildings, rock piles, caves or mines -- clean your gear and clothing when you leave
  • Reduce lighting around your home and minimize tree clearing to improve bat habitats.
You can visit www.wdfw.wa.gov/bats for more information on white-nose syndrome and how you can help Washington’s bats.