Fish and Wildlife Service lists the northern long-eared bat as threatened under ESA
On April 1, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)announced it will list the northern long-eared bat as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), an action that impacts a large portion of the Midwest and eastern United States.
Eastern Wyoming is among the areas impacted by the listing decision.
The primary reason for the listing, says FWS, is “due to the threat posed by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has devastated many bat populations.”
The listing will become effective on May 4 – 30 days after publication of the final listing determination in the Federal Register.
“Bats are a critical component of our nation’s ecology and economy, maintaining a fragile insect predator-prey balance. We lose them at our peril,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “Without bats, insect populations can rise dramatically, with the potential for devastating losses for our crop farmers and foresters. The alternative to bats is greater pesticide use, which brings with it another set of ecological concerns.”
FWS noted that the long-eared bat was once common across the country, but after white-notes syndrome emerged, populations declined dramatically over a short period of time.
“The range of the long-eared bat extends into 37 states and white-nose syndrome has spread to 25 of those states, with the fungus that causes the disease documented in an additional three states,” said FWS.
They continued, “Based on surveillance and research since white-nose syndrome symptoms were first seen on bats in 2006, we expect that white-nose syndrome will spread throughout this bat’s range and that impacts will be the same as those documented in areas already affected by white-nose syndrome.”
In October 2014, FWS proposed the northern long-eared bat as a potential endangered species following noted declines. In their review, however, they determined that the species only warranted a “threatened” listing status.
“In making this decision, we reviewed the best available scientific information on the northern long-eared bat, including information gathered from more than 100,000 public comments,” said FWS Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. “We are listing this species because a disease – white-nose syndrome – is spreading and decimating its populations. We designed the 4(d) rule to provide appropriate protection within the area where the disease occurs for the remaining individuals during their most sensitive life stages, but to otherwise eliminate unnecessary regulation.”
Despite the declines of bats and the listing decision, FWS noted and recognized the important contributions that states and local governments are making to address the challenge.
“FWS, states, federal agencies, tribes, conservation organizations and scientific institutions are working together on a national response team to address white-nose syndrome through disease monitoring and management, conservation and outreach,” they said in a press release. “FWS has granted more than $20 million to institutions and federal and state agencies for research and response.”
However, they also mentioned that human activities, particularly those close to hibernation sites, impact the species, “creating heightened challenges for bat populations already weakened by disease and underscoring the need to protect important habitat while research continues to develop a cure for white-nose syndrome.”
In conjunction with the listing, FWS issues an interim special 4(d) rule.
The interim special rule “eliminates unnecessary regulatory requirements for landowners, land managers, government agencies and others in the range of the northern long-eared bat,” commented FWS in a news release. “The public is invited to comment on this interim rule as the Service considers whether modifications or exemptions for additional categories of activities should be included in a final 4(d) rule that will be finalized by the end of the calendar year.”
The measures provided in the 4(d) rule, said FWS provide an exemption for “take” resulting from certain activities, including forest management practices, maintenance and limited expansion of transportation and utility rights-of-way, removal of trees and brush to maintain prairie habitat and limited tree-removal projects, as long as these activities occur away from known maternity roosts and hibernation caves.
“These measures are designed to protect northern long-eared bats when they are most vulnerable, including when they are hibernating and during the two-month pup-rearing season from June through July,” FWS said.
Public comments on the 4(d) rule will be accepted through July 1. Comments can be made electronically by visiting regulations.gov and entering Docket Number FWS-R5-ES-2011-0024.
Hard copy and hand-delivered comments will also be accepted at Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R5–ES–2011–0024; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: BPHC; 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Va. 22041-3803.
On hearing about the listing, Congressional Western Caucus Chairman and Wyoming Representative Cynthia Lummis said, “Naturally-occurring diseases don’t respect government rules or regulations. White-nose syndrome is the sole reason FWS decided to list the northern long-eared bat, but this unprecedented listing, which focuses entirely on regulating humans, does nothing to actually recover the bat.”
“Our efforts need to be focused on addressing the real problem at hand: white-nose syndrome, a goal which we all share but that is not furthered one iota by today’s listing,” Lummis added. “Instead, this listing shoves regulatory burdens on American families and job creators whose actions are not responsible for the bat’s decline.”
Public information meetings
With the listing of the long-eared bat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be holding three public meetings to provide details and answer questions about the listing and the interim 4(d) rule.
Meetings will be held via teleconference and are slated for April 3 at 12 noon, April 8 at 2 p.m. and April 9 at 10 a.m.
To participate, call 877-918-2510 and enter passcode 9285200#.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.