Northern Long Eared Bat – Minnesota’s Spotted Owl

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is proposing to add the Northern Long Eared Bat to the Endangered Species List. The bat is being killed in high numbers by the white nose syndrome. The listing of the Northern Long Eared Bat on the Endangered Species List will place vast restrictions on activities that might disrupt the habitat of the Northern Long Eared Bat – specifically forested areas.

Although it is not logging or other activities that are causing the deaths – it is the white nose syndrome (see story about the White Nose Syndrome here) – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife proposes to address potential habitat disruptions such as logging operations during non-winter months, (although the U.S. Fish and Wildlife has also noted that clear-cutting as conducted during winter timber harvest operations may also negatively impact the bat habitat) based on the following explanation:

Obviously WNS is the main threat to these bat species, but under the ESA, all threats to the species must be considered. On top of that, it is not just population level affects that are considered, but affects to individuals. This is what brings forest management and harvest activities into the mix, because of the potential to “take” (harm, harass, injure, kill) A SINGLE BAT during these activities.

Note: The documented killing and injuring of Bald Eagles, also listed on the Endangered Species List, by wind generators have not resulted in any restrictions to the windmill industry.

Many of these bat species are ubiquitous in forested landscapes, and therefore the potential exists to “take” a bat in most places. This begs the question of likelihood/probability of take and all kinds of variables must be brought into consideration (forest type, species of bat present, bat population density, tree species present, preferred tree species for bat roosting, topography, etc.). I think many of these things are still being considered and analyzed, and will therefore hopefully inform the final decision.

It is my understanding that from a biological perspective, such a restriction might be put in place to reduce the threat to bat pups (young) during the time of year when they are non-volant (not able to fly). If bats are roosting in a tree that is being harvested, the adults may be able to fly to safety, but that wouldn’t be an option for the pups… There might also be concern about removing a roost tree that isn’t currently being used but might be part of a maternity colony. Bats have rather sophisticated social structures, and generally roost in multiple trees in an area, particularly when the bats are grouped into maternity colonies. Removing roost trees whether being used or not, could potentially disrupt the colony, and could cause it to fracture altogether. These are just a few things that come to mind immediately when thinking of reasons why a seasonal harvest restriction might have been put forth as a recommended conservation measure.

-Brandon Hartleben, Regional TES Biologist, USDA – Forest Service, Region 9

Department of Natural Resources from Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin submitted a letter of concern to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife stating:

On behalf of our respective state agencies, we write in regard to the proposed addition of the northern long-eared bat to the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife due to the spread of the white nose syndrome. If approved, this listing would become effective in November of 2014. For the reasons stated below, we request that the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) delay listing of the northern long-eared bat until such time that the concerns regarding the draft guidance can be adequately addressed and discussed with your state partner agencies.

If these measures were applied to all forested lands, they could impact hundreds of thousands of landowners managing their forests and have a crippling effect on our forest product industries.

The Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife responded with the following position:

Your letter requests that we delay listing to provide enough time for a reasonable and appropriate conservation strategy and Habitat Conservation Plans to be developed for the species. The ESA provides that a listing decision may only be extended when “ there is substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data relevant to the determination.1” 6.U .S.C. 1533(bX6XBXi). We are carefully examining the scientific information available to us, including all information received from States, Tribes, and other sources, with an eye toward determining whether an extension is appropriate under this standard. If so, we may extend the deadline for up to six months. We welcome your direct input into helping us understand from a States perspective, any “substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data.”

In summary, the response from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service pretty much said, “Thanks for your input, but we are going to do whatever we want, and if we determine that your concerns meet our criteria for consideration of a delay we may allow a delay for up to a maximum of six months – but it is going to happen one way or another!

Since this is a federal issue, the only way to reign in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife will be for our congressional delegation of Congressman and Senators to intercede and direct the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to delay the listing and implementation of measures that would place devastating restrictions on the Minnesota timber industry, public and private forest management efforts, critical infrastructure projects and multiple use recreational utilization of public lands.

Loggers hold numerous timber contracts to harvest county, state and federal timber. These permits were purchased and have been secured by substantial financial investment and security. Additionally, these timber permits were purchased years in advance as required to establish an adequate timber portfolio to support harvest plans based on economic and market conditions.

If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service impose timber harvest restrictions as part of the inclusion of the Northern Long Eared Bat on the Endangered or Threatened Species Act, the ACLT will support mobilizing a number of logging companies and collectively operating and harvesting the timber permit – in direct opposition and protest to the unreasonable threat to the logging industry. Otherwise the listing of the Northern Long Eared Bat, and timber harvest restrictions, will prove to be Minnesota’s Spotted Owl and be the final straw that breaks a struggling industry.