ALBANY - New York's environmental regulators have a message for adventurers this winter: Leave the bats alone.
In an effort to save the state’s bat population, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued an alert Friday urging outdoor enthusiasts to avoid exploring caves and mine sites where bats may hibernate this winter.
White-nose syndrome, a disease in which a white fungus appears on the nose of hibernating bats, has killed more than 90 percent of the bat population at most hibernation sites in New York, according to the DEC.
Disturbing bats during hibernation can increase their body temperatures and help lead to death, the DEC said.
In a statement, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said research has shown white-nose syndrome "makes bats highly susceptible to disturbances."
"Even a single, seemingly quiet visit can kill bats that would otherwise survive the winter,” he said. "If you see hibernating bats, assume you are doing harm and leave immediately.”
The hibernation period for bats generally runs from October through April.Those entering a hibernation zone for the northern long-eared bat -- a threatened species -- could face prosecution, according to the DEC.
To reduce disturbances, the department has posted notices restricting entry into caves and mines and asking visitors that if they do encounter bats while outdoors to please leave the area as quickly and quietly as possible.