Nova Scotia is about to restart a program that encourages the public to help save the province’s three species of at-risk bats.

Last year, Nova Scotia's Bat Conservation Web Page received 20,000 hits, leading to 1,000 reports of new and historic bat locations across the province.

“Every bat sighting now is really important,” said provincial biologist Mark Elderkin.

He said the devastating fungus known as white-nose syndrome has killed 95 per cent of bats from major caves on mainland Nova Scotia. The fungus causes the bats to wake early from hibernation. They can die from dehydration, starvation and exposure.

The bats’ rapid decline resulted in the province's three species of bats — little brown bats, northern long-eared bats and tri-coloured bats — being added to Nova Scotia’s list of protected species.

However, the federal government has so far ignored the findings of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada that advised Ottawa as recently as last week to add bats to the endangered species list.

Still hope for bats

The volume of public sightings last were a nice surprise for biologists like Elderkin.

Last year’s sightings indicate Cape Breton populations may have been spared from white-nose syndrome — so far — for reasons as yet unknown.

It appears small colonies on the mainland have also survived, making public input even more important.

“There are still bats across the landscape over the mainland and all over Cape Breton, and that I think was totally counterintuitive to what a lot of us believed was actually the case in the aftermath of the collapse I've just described,” said Elderkin.

He said public sightings provide valuable information on how many bats still survive and where they may be — key information in the recovery of an at-risk species.

The federal government will be asked to develop a conservation plan for bats this fall.

After a winter shutdown — the bat sighting website will be reactivated on May 15.