In a very unusual move, on November 18, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service agreed to reopen the public comment process on its proposal to list the Northern Long-Eared Bat (NLEB) for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The docket will accept new comments for an additional month, closing the docket again at noon on December 18.
USFWS seems to have made this decision in view of a very well-considered letter it received from several regional coalitions of forestry and conservation officials, led by the Midwest Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies.
“I have seen the testimony sent in by the Midwest folks and agree that it is very well written and their logic seems to be sound,” said Barry Burgason, chair, MFPC/SFI Wildlife Committee. “They basically argue that the evidence does not show endangerment throughout the entire range of the NLEB and that they should either not list or list as threatened with a forestry exemption, since White-Nose Syndrome is the real issue.”
- Raises doubts about the evidence cited in USFWs listing proposal
- Argues that the Service has legal authority to manage Bat recovery without imposing new regulations on forest land
- Suggests prioritizing and protecting “hibernacula,” or the Bat’s enclosed winter habitat, rather attempting to regulate open habitat
- Advocates focusing recovery efforts on studying and curing, or inhibiting the spread of, White-Nose Syndrome, the actual threat to the Northern Long-Eared Bat.
The Forest Resources Association (FRA) sent out an email recommending that its members participate in the re-opened comment period, even if they have previously submitted comments on the proposed listing, to express in their own words strong support for the “Letter from Midwest and Southeast Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Regional Forestry Groups” and to reiterate the points that are most important to them. FRA has already submitted a Comment referencing this letter. To review it, please click here.
FRA also sent information about how to submit a comment:
- Go to regulations.gov, and enter FWS–R5–ES–2011–0024 in the Search Box.
- The Listing proposal, with re-opened Comment process, will appear at the top of the list, along with information about privacy options.
- Click the “Comment Now” option.
- In the box that appears, enter up to 5,000 characters. There is an option to attach supplementary documents, if desired. Drafting a Comment in advance, and then pasting it into this box, is recommended.
The species most affected are those colonial roosting bats that hibernate in caves, Burgason wrote in an earlier article for the MFPC newsletter. One of those species is the Northern Long Eared Bat (NLEB), which is currently under consideration by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for listing as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In surveys of some caves, population declines around 90 percent have been documented since the discovery of WMS in NY in 2006. A final determination on the listing may come in October 2014.
During the winter, NLEBs gather in caves or old mines, where they are susceptible to the fungus. However, in the spring, summer and fall, they become creatures of the forest; feeding in and under the canopy at night and roosting in hollow trees, under sloughing bark or in cracks and crevices of trees 3” DBH and greater. June to mid-July is the maternity period when the females roost together in small colonies to raise their young. It is their time in the forest and our activities during that time that creates a connection to us as forest landowners. Should NLEBs become listed under ESA (which they probably will), landowners need to understand what will happen next.
On May 28, the MFPC wildlife committee invited bat biologists, agency representatives and landowners to a meeting at the Council office to learn about NLEBs, the pending listing and the implications for our timber harvesting. Currently, the bat experts in Maine are a small group of consulting biologists who work primarily with wind turbine developers and transmission line builders to site and permit their projects.Information on bats is collected with mist nets and acoustic antennae in the vicinity of a proposed project.
Trevor Peterson from Stantec Consulting; Aaron Svedlow from Tetra Tech and Dave Yates from the BioDiversity Research Institute started the meeting with a “biology of the NLEB 101” presentation. USFWS biologist Wendy Mahaney discussed the listing process and her agency’s responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act. Also attending the meeting were Charlie Todd, endangered species biologist at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) and John DePue, IFW furbearer and bat biologist.
An open-ended discussion followed the presentations. The obvious concern for landowners is the “incidental take” provision of the ESA, which prohibits killing or the destruction of habitat of an endangered species. One thing that became clear was that there is still much to be learned about the biology of NLEBs. What is the best way to survey for them? Where do they hibernate in Maine? How common/rare are they? What is suitable habitat? What is optimal habitat? How can you define a “habitat guideline” for them if you don’t know these basics and – finally – do they eat spruce budworm?
Mahaney expressed her thanks to MFPC for the invitation to meet with landowners and perhaps cooperate on research projects and the development of guidelines that can help NLEBs and other bat species that patrol our woods. She promised to keep us informed on the listing process and recovery efforts of the Service.
While WNS is the acknowledged “bad guy,” forest landowners can, again, be the “good guys” that provide the quality habitat for bats, should they be able to overcome WNS.
“I am still not as excited over listing NLEB as some in the forest industry,” Burgason wrote in an email last week, “since I question USFWS’s nexus to affect operations on private lands and I do not see any indication in the Fed Registry proposal to list that they have any intention to halt or restrict timber harvesting on private lands, especially in Maine where there are very few known hibernation caves. I did read a statement from USFWS that they have no authority to go on private lands to search for bat maternity roosts during the summer.”