Spring Valley, WI (WQOW) -- Halloween may spark fear for what flies in the night, but for bats a real risk looms -- far more frightful than folklore. One of Wisconsin's most vital pest controllers is at the risk of near devastation.
"White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease. It's originally from Europe and came over to the United States about 2006. It was first discovered in New York and then since then has been slowly progressing west-ward and now it's over about half of the United States, said Crystal Cave Executive Director Eric McMaster. "It will kill the majority of bats, so you could see mortality rates of bats 90, 95 percent."
Last spring white-nose syndrome was spotted in Crystal Cave. While experts expect some mortality going in to year two, year three could bring devastation for the cave's over 800 bats. With nearly a decade to prepare, there's still no solution.
"Bats aren't as cute for the general public as say birds. If you have a disease that was killing 90 percent of your song birds you can just imagine the uproar that people would have, but they don't have that same passion to try and protect the bats," McMaster said.
Experts said they don't have the funding, which is what keeps research from moving forward.
"The Federal government has spent $38 million total between 2007 and now on bat research. When you think about $37-38 million, the new U.S. Bank Stadium cost $945 million. So bats are really important, but no money is being spent, or very little I should say, is being spent on the state or federal level to research White Nose Syndrome," McMaster said.
Experts said misconceptions about these mammals keep concern low but in reality, without them, a bigger threat rides on their webbed wings.
"They're eating all the pests that are harming our agricultural crops, that are harming our gardens that you have outside your house, or the mosquitoes that are biting you. So bats are very important to the environment and also to the agriculture of Wisconsin, McMaster said."
Bats are commonly associated with carrying diseases, specifically rabies. Crystal Cave said bats are actually clean and relatively disease-free, but when a testing procedure over 40 years ago went wrong and came back with incorrect results showing all bats positive for rabies, their reputation proceeded them.
Crystal Cave is matching dollar for dollar donations to the DNR bat program to help fund research on White Nose Syndrome. Donations can also be made online directly to the DNR.