Bats highly valued in western Wisconsin - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Bats highly valued in western Wisconsin

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Maiden Rock (WQOW) - Bats are an important part of Western Wisconsin's ecosystem and economy.

The DNR estimates their value to our agricultural industry between $658 million and $1.5 billion annually.

Some of those bats are under the threat of a fungus that can wipe out entire cave populations.

Bats have stayed healthy at a mine in Maiden Rock because of the mine and DNR's collaboration.

The call of the Little Brown Bat is a healthy sign for all Western Wisconsin bats.

"They're consuming massive amounts of insects.  Anywhere from 500-1,000 mosquito size insects in an hour.  Extrapolate that to, they eat their body weight in insects per night basically," says DNR conservation biologist Paul White.

A benefit for families tired of bug bites and farmers fighting similar pests in their fields, because nearly 100,000 bats hang out in this active sand mine in Maiden Rock.

"They do not like to be in the areas that we are active in.  As we are mining, we are creating a hibernacula of more habitat for them to exist in," says Michele Maxson of Fairmount Minerals, the operating company of the mine.

But the front end loaders aren't worrying the DNR, it's something much smaller that threatens the bats.

"White Nose Syndrome was first found in 2006 in a cave in New York.  It has since spread to 22 states and five Canadian Provinces," says White.

One of the most recently discovered sites is in Minnesota and the DNR fears it might migrate.

"What it does is it causes bats to prematurely wake up.  It burns through their fat reserves, it eats away at their wings, their nose, their ears," says White.

"What they're looking at is to see if any bats are leaving during odd times, during the daylight, in the middle of the winter hours," says Maxson.

The Maiden Rock population hasn't shown these signs yet.

"We have had some of our bats from our mines used as a control group for the studies for the DNR," says Maxson.

One study involved transferring healthy bats to a quarantined cave in Vermont, where the DNR discovered a new development in the transmission of the syndrome.

"It'll actually transfer to the healthy bats.  So it will not only go from bat to bat, but then also from cave to bat, which is very important because we're trying to figure out the transmission routes," says White.

People can also transfer it on their clothes when they visit multiple caves, which is why the Maiden Rock mine is very careful with anyone who visits.

"We have to make sure that they are decontaminated and that they are not going from a different facility to our mine with any kind of fungus of any sort," says Maxson.

Making Maiden Rock a regionally important site to protect populations of bats from a dangerous outbreak.

White Nose Syndrome doesn't harm people or pets, but we can still be carriers of the fungus from cave to cave.

That's why the DNR has decontamination rules and restrictions at healthy bat habitats to stop or slow the spread.

Let me know what you think about the value of bats on Twitter @crusan_michael

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