Bats now officially classified as endangered species
April 6, 2023
The northern long-eared bat is now officially listed as “endangered”.
The implementation of this upgrade to the bat’s status was originally set to take place on January 30. However, this was delayed until the end of March to address concerns over the impact that the listing might have on infrastructure projects across the bat’s territory.
The delay, according to an announcement from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) in the Federal Register, “Is necessary for the Service to finalize conservation tools and guidance documents to avoid confusion and disruption with members of the public who would be regulated by the rule.”
Crook is one of five Wyoming counties to which the bat is believed to be native, alongside Campbell, Niobrara, Sheridan and Weston.
FWS made the decision to upgrade the classification from “threatened” to “endangered” in response to the continued spread of white-nose syndrome.
The fungal pathogen invades a bat’s skin and causes it to arouse more often and for longer during the hibernation period, depleting the fat reserves needed to survive through the winter.
White-nose syndrome is believed to have caused a population decline of between 97 and 100% across 79% of the bat’s range. The disease was the driving factor behind the bat’s original listing as “threatened” in 2015.
Senator Cynthia Lummis and Senator Shelley Moore (R-WV), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, as well as 11 additional senators, intervened when the decision to upgrade the bat’s status was announced.
In a letter to the FWS, they pointed out that the original rule from 2015 focused in on, “Prohibitions deemed necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the threatened species, instead of applying blanket prohibitions that obstruct economic growth and development.”
The letter expresses concern that the 2015 rule will be invalidated, which in turn will leave “countless infrastructure project consultations in limbo”.
According to the letter from the senators, implementing the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) will mean that many infrastructure projects will require federal agencies and project sponsors to consult with FWS on potential impacts to the bat and its habitat, “even though these projects and developments have little contributing impact to the decline of the species, and most mitigation measures will do little to nothing to combat [white-nose syndrome].”
The FWS acknowledged in response that the upgraded listing will nullify the part of the previous “threatened” rule that tailors prohibitions and exceptions to those necessary and advisable for the species.
“We recognize that the change to endangered status will result in questions and concerns about establishing compliance under the Act for forestry, wind energy, infrastructure and many other projects within the 37 states that comprise the range of the northern long-eared bat,” states the Federal Register announcement.
“We are committed to working proactively with stakeholders to conserve and recover northern long-eared bats while reducing impacts to landowners, where possible and practicable.”
During the two extra months provided by the delay, FWS worked to finalize tools that would help guide project managers through the consultation process. This relates to the part of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 known as Section 7, which requires that federal agencies develop a conservation program for a listed species and avoid any actions that would further harm it and its critical habitat.
To do this, Section 7 directs federal agencies to ensure that any action they authorize, fund or carry out does not jeopardize the continued existence of the species or its habitat.
For the last three years, FWS has completed consultation for 24,480 projects across the 37 states that could impact the bat, many of which are not yet complete. Under the previous rule, incidental take was not usually prohibited.
However, now the bat is listed as “endangered”, incidental take that is reasonably certain to occur as a result of actions taken will be prohibited. Numerous federal agencies would now need to reinitiate consultation on projects – and the projects themselves would need to be halted – until that consultation is complete, unless the FWS provides an incidental take statement.
FWS estimates that over 3000 projects, ranging from agriculture to infrastructure to residential and commercial development, will be in need of an incidental take statement.
“These projects include road and bridge construction and maintenance projects across the 37-state range and forest management activities intended to prevent wildfires and sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests, which also provide important northern long-eared bat habitat,” states the announcement on the Federal Register.
“This number does not include new projects or ongoing projects, of the 24,480 previously mentioned, that may be impacted by a lack of the conservation tools and guidance documents that are currently under development. Without these final tools in place, many new and existing projects that require consultation will likely experience project delays.”
The FWS announced its final rule regarding the status of the northern long-eared bat in the Federal Register on November 30, 2022.
A species warrants listing if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, or is a threatened species likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future.
According to the FWS, white-nose syndrome has been the foremost stressor on the bat for over a decade and there is no known mitigation or treatment strategy.