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Bat disease discovered in Rockingham County
For the first time, wildlife biologists found hibernating bats in Rockingham County suffering from white nose syndrome, a white fungus that grows on a bat’s face and wings during hibernation.
Bats with white nose syndrome were first discovered in New Hampshire in 2009 and until recently were only seen in bats hibernating in Coos, Grafton and Merrimack counties.
Other counties in the state do not have known hibernacula, but the summer populations have been affected, according to Emily Brunkhurst, a wildlife biologist with the state Fish and Game Department’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program.
With the bat population rapidly declining, the state is taking steps to protect the bats that are left.
A new rule went into effect in June prohibiting licensed wildlife control operators from removing bats from unoccupied structures between May 15 and Aug. 15, unless a rabid bat is found on the property and documented by the state Department of Health and Human Services.
The fungus has hit five of the eight species of bats living in New Hampshire, including the most common bat known as the little brown bat. The number of hibernating little brown bats has plunged 99 percent, Brunkhurst said.
The Northern long-eared bat, tricolored bat, Eastern small-footed bat, and the big brown bat have also been affected.
Brunkhurst said she feels wildlife control operators will be receptive to the new rule because they understand the devastating effects of white nose syndrome.
“They have all seen declines in the number of requests they get for bat exclusions,” she said.
Several wildlife control operators submitted positive comments during the public comment period on the new rule, Brunkhurst said, adding: “More and more people not only know the bats are dying off but understand that there will be an effect on the ecosystem. Not only may mosquito numbers go up, but forest pest and agricultural pests are also eaten by bats. I think that people are gaining a new appreciation for these cute aerial acrobats.”
According to Brunkhurst, surveys of bats taken in the summer were similar to winter surveys that show few bats are flying around in New Hampshire and other nearby states, including Massachusetts, New York and Vermont.
She stressed the importance of allowing bat colonies to remain.
“If you need to remove it, please do not do so until after the bat pups are ready to fly off. They need the roost for a week or so after they learn to fly, for protection during the day. By mid-August, they will have left with their mothers to fatten up and seek winter shelter. Then you can plug up those access holes,” she said.
Wildlife officials hope the new rule will help as bats continue to face an uncertain future.
“The future still looks bleak, although there are a few small signs that some bats may survive this. Other rules may be necessary to further protect these species,” Brunkhurst said.
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