(WETM) – Bat Week is almost here and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is reminding New Yorkers about the importance of protecting these insect-eating animals.

The DEC released an announcement on the “critical role of bats in our environment” ahead of Bat Week, which runs Oct. 24-31 each year. Commissioner Basil Seggos urged hikers and outdoorsmen to avoid entering caves and mines during fall and winter so as not to disturb hibernating bats and to avoid prosecution.

“Bats play an important role in our environment, helping control insect populations,” Seggos said. “With Halloween on people’s minds, DEC is urging outdoor adventurers to protect New York’s bats by avoiding caves and mines altogether. Even the quietest cave visits will disturb bats hunkering down for the winter.”

The DEC explained that in order to hibernate, bats’ body temperatures drop significantly, and they rely on fat reserves to survive the winter. When disturbed, their body temperature rises, using more of the fat and lowering their chances of making it through until spring when insects are available again.

If you are in a cave or mine that’s posted or has hibernating bats, the DEC you should leave quickly and quietly. Anyone entering a Long-Eared Bat hibernation site through the end of April could be prosecuted, the DEC.

The announcement also said that in recent years, the once-common Little Brown Bat has started to make a recovery in New York State. However, other species aren’t faring quite as well. The DEC pointed to the Indiana Bat and the Northern Long-Eared Bat as two examples listed as endangered or threatened under federal and State laws.

White-nose disease is an important culprit for declining bat populations, the DEC said. According to the agency, the Tri-Colored Bat is widespread but rare, seeing a 98% population decrease from the disease. The DEC said there is currently no treatment.