The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has pumped $20 million into the effort to study and find a cure for white-nose syndrome since the fungus was first found to be killing bats in 2006.
Now, state resource agencies and research institutions also are getting involved.
The University of Minnesota Duluth's Natural Resources Research Institute, in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service, will be studying bats in northern Minnesota in coming months, as the bats emerge from hibernation in caves and old underground mines to nest and raise their young in forested areas.
The effort is financed with $1.25 million in state conservation fund money from state lottery proceeds. It's aimed at northern long-eared bats that on Wednesday received formal federal Endangered Species Act protections.
Ron Moen, NRRI biologist and lead researcher on the project, said female bats use specific trees as "maternity roosts'' until the pups can fly. It's known several families may group together, but it's not known what habitat the bats favor.
"Right now we don't know which trees they use and how long they use them," he said in an NRRI statement announcing the project.
Moen and his research team will start this spring in what's hoped to be a three-year project.
Researchers plan to use fine-mesh nets strung between trees to catch the bats, attach tracking devices to them and then find the trees where they roost by following individual bats.
"Then we'll return in the evening to count the bats coming out of each roost tree and find out how long a tree is used," Moen said. "Basically, we'll be identifying characteristics of maternity roost sites to help make the best management decisions."
While state officials want to protect bats, they also are concerned that federal regulations could stifle logging, critical both for forest management and the regional economy.
Scientists hope to attach tiny VHF radio transmitters to more than 140 female bats.
"We want to learn more about where northern long-eared bats are in Minnesota, from historic data. And then we need to fill in the gaps on where they are living now,'' Rich Baker, DNR endangered species coordinator, told the News Tribune. "But being able to track the females to their roost sites, that's what could really give us some new information on where they raise their young. That's the critical piece of information."
Baker said that while habitat is not what is killing bats, it will be critical to maintain high-quality habitat even if white-nose syndrome is solved.