VICTORIA -- Bats are more than a decoration around Halloween time, they are a big part of our ecosystem.

Bats help control agricultural and forest pests, they help reduce mosquitoes in your backyard and they even pollinate agave plants used to make tequila.

International Bat Week begins Saturday and continues until Halloween, and a local conservation group says it’s your opportunity to get educated on bats, know their importance to our environment and how you can help protect them.

Half of the bat species in B.C. are considered at risk, and a deadly disease that has been getting closer to the province may further threaten them.

“White Nose Syndrome is a fungus that affects bats during hibernation,” says Paige Erickson-McGee, stewardship coordinator for Habitat Acquisition Trust, a regional land trust that conserves nature on south Vancouver Island.

“We are concerned about it because it has been found in Washington state in a couple of places just below the border. Bats should be either hibernating or migrating in the winter, so if we are seeing a lot of bats, it could be a cause for concern and we want to hear about it.”

White Nose Syndrome is a disease that grows on bats and wakes them up from hibernation, causing them to burn through much-needed fat supplies, ultimately leading to their death.

The little brown bat, for example, has be severely affected. In the past 12 years, the species has gone from one of the most common bats in North America to endangered.

Habitat Acquisition Trust says International Bat Week is an opportunity to not only educate people on bats but get them to keep their eyes open for bats that are awake in the winter months.

They suggest people research bats online, host an educational event, help restore a wetland, learn about bat-friendly lighting or prepare a bat box for next spring.

To learn about the many ways bats contribute to our lives and what you can do locally for bats, visit the International Bat Week website or the BC Community Bat Program.

On Saturday, the Habitat Acquisition Trust will host an interpretive bat walk and talk at the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific in Saanich. Registration is required and more information can be found here

“Learn about bats and celebrate these amazing creatures that we depend on and are an important part of our environment,” says Erickson-McGee.

If you do see a bat in winter, please report it. Monitoring for White Nose Syndrome in B.C. will continue this winter, with community bat programs requesting reports of dead bats or sightings of winter bat activity starting just after bat week on Nov. 1.

You can report winter bat sightings, on the BC Community Bat Program website or by calling 855-922-2287.