PUBLIC HELP IS ESSENTIAL FOR MONITORING BAT DISEASE

BC bats are threatened by disease, and researchers continue to ask the public for help. White-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease responsible for the death of millions of bats in eastern North America, is spreading on the west coast. Scientists are concerned that the disease may reach Vancouver Island soon.

Confirmed to the west and east of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State, just 150 km south of the BC-US border, the presence of the fungus is very worrisome for the health of our local bat populations. The disease has near 100% mortality for some species of bats exposed to the fungus, including the Little Brown Bat which is currently the most common bat in the Comox Valley. Although devastating for bats, WNS does not affect humans.

Tracking the spread of the disease relies on public assistance. “Detection of WNS in BC is challenging because our bats hibernate in small groups across the province,” says Tim Ennis, North Island Coordinator with the BC Community Bat Program. “To monitor the spread of the disease, we need more eyes on the ground. Outdoor enthusiasts and homeowners with roosts on their property may be the first to find evidence of trouble.”

Signs of the disease include unusual bat activity in winter and the appearance of dead bats outdoors as they succumb to the effects of WNS. “We are encouraging the public to report dead bats or any sightings of winter bat activity to the BC Community Bat Program toll-free phone number, website, or email below. Bat carcasses will be submitted for testing for white-nose syndrome and would provide the earliest indication of the presence of the disease in BC” says Ennis. Reports of winter bat activity will help focus research, monitoring and protection efforts.

While bats are generally hibernating out of sight this time of year, not every winter bat sighting signals disaster. Bats often hibernate by themselves in a woodpile or basement entryway. If possible, these sleeping bats should be left alone – keep your distance, snap a photo, and report to the BC Community Bat Program. If you must move a bat, visit www.bcbats.ca for advice. Remember to never touch a bat with your bare hands.

Bats are also occasionally spotted flying on relatively warm winter days or evenings. Healthy bats may wake up to drink or even eat, if insects are active. Enjoy these sightings and remember to let us know when and where winter bat activity was observed.

If you find a dead bat, report it to the BC Community Bat Program (www.bcbats.ca, info@bcbats.ca, or 1-855-922-2287 ext 24) as soon as possible for further information. Never touch a dead bat with your bare hands. Please note that if you or your pet has been in direct contact with the bat you will need further information regarding the risk of rabies to you and your pet.

Currently, there are no treatments for White Nose Syndrome. However, mitigating other threats to bat populations and preserving and restoring bat habitat may provide bat populations with the resilience to rebound. This is where the BC Community Bat Program and the general public can help. Funded by the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, the Forest Enhancement Society of BC, the Province of BC, the Habitat Stewardship Program, and the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program, the BC Community Bat Program and the North Island Bat Project works with the government and others on public outreach activities, public reports of roosting bats in buildings, our citizen-science bat monitoring program, and developing bat-friendly communities. The North Island Bat Project is locally sponsored by the Cumberland Community Forest Society and the Comox Valley Land Trust.

To contact the BC Community Bat Program, see www.bcbats.ca, email info@bcbats.ca or call 1-855-922-2287 ext. 24.

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About Community Bat Programs of BC

The “Got Bats?” initiative is a network of community bat projects across BC, carried out in partnership with the Ministry of Environment. The goals of this network are to increase the number of known roost sites in human-made structures, and encourage landowners to protect their bat roost sites or use bat-friendly exclusion methods and install bat-houses, promote the Annual Bat Count to monitor bat populations, and enhance bat habitat by encouraging the installation and monitoring of bat-houses. The success of identifying roost sites for species at risk and the enthusiasm of residents to report their bats, conserve their roost sites or consider sensitive methods for removing bats from their homes continues to drive the success of these projects. The activities in each region depend on the level of funding, community partners, and the priorities of the area.

About Comox Valley Land Trust

Comox Valley Land Trust (CVLT) works to protect and conserve the ecologically significant land and wildlife habitats of the Comox Valley region. It addresses conservation through two programs: the Land Protection Program and the Comox Valley Conservation Partnership Program. CVLT’s team of dedicated volunteers and staff collaborates with the community, local governments, landowners and other stewardship organizations in the Comox Valley region.

About Cumberland Community Forest Society

Cumberland Community Forest Society (CCFS) is a grassroots community based charitable not for profit dedicated to purchasing, protecting and restoring the Cumberland Forest that borders the Village of Cumberland on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. This forest is part of a significant habitat and recreation corridor that runs from the Beaufort Range and Comox Glacier to the Salish Sea.

Tim Ennis

Executive Director, Comox Valley Land Trust