Fish And Wildlife Service Urged To Speed Protection For Bats

Thursday, August 28, 2014
Two dozen conservation and animal-welfare groups sent a letter today urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to complete its plan to protect the northern long-eared bat, a species found primarily in the eastern and midwestern United States. Opposition to the bat’s protection under the Endangered Species Act — from timber, mining and energy industries as well as several state natural-resource agency officials — prompted the Fish and Wildlife Service to postpone a final decision on protecting the bat until spring 2015.

“There’s no scientifically valid reason to delay protecting the northern long-eared bat. There are only political reasons,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “White-nose syndrome has already killed 98 percent of northern long-eared bats in their core range, and the disease keeps spreading. These animals are already highly endangered, and if we don’t take action right now to help them, they’ll soon be extinct.”

White-nose syndrome is an exotic fungal disease that first showed up in North American hibernating bats in 2006. It is estimated to have killed nearly seven million bats, and has affected seven different species. From its epicenter in upstate New York, the disease has spread to bats in 25 states. It is the primary threat to northern long-eared bats, which are also threatened by habitat loss through logging, environmental toxins, and human disturbance of bat colonies. Insect-eating bats such as the northern long-eared help keep populations of farm crop and timber pests in check, and are estimated to provide $22 billion worth of pest control services to agriculture annually.

In 2010 the Center petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the northern long-eared bat and eastern small-footed bat under the Endangered Species Act. In October of last year the agency proposed that the northern long-eared bat be designated as endangered. It was scheduled to finalize that proposal in October, but in the face of intensifying criticism from industry groups and several state natural-resource agencies in the upper Midwest, the Service announced earlier this summer it would delay the final decision until April 2015.

"With so few left, every individual bat is vital," said Nancy Blaney, senior policy advisor with the Animal Welfare Institute. "Every delay in protection for this bat means that it will be in worse shape by the time the government finally does what is clearly necessary — to list this bat under the ESA and get down to the work of safeguarding it from all actions that jeopardize its continued existence."

Some opponents of federal protection for northern long-eared bats contend that since logging, mining and other threats are not the primary causes of the bat’s decline, those activities should be exempt from Endangered Species Act prohibitions that would prevent them from harming the animal. However, an endangered listing would require planning and mitigation measures to address even incidental harm, such as that caused by a national forest offering a timber sale in a place where northern long-eared bats may be hurt by logging. Listing the bat under the Act would also provide tools to ensure the species' conservation in the United States.

Signers of the letter, sent to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, include national organizations such as the Center for Biological Diversity and Animal Welfare Institute, as well local grassroots groups based in states ranging from Maine to South Dakota.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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