The Herald Bulletin

Afternoon Update

Nation & World

April 25, 2014

States seek delay in protecting long-eared bat

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — A federal plan to protect one of the bat species that are dying by the millions from a fast-moving disease could also create casualties in the forest products industry, say officials in four Midwestern states that are seeking a delay.

The heads of natural resources departments in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin sent a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this month requesting additional time before the agency decides whether to place the northern long-eared bat on the endangered list.

The service is scheduled to make a final ruling by Oct. 2 — one year after proposing the designation, as required under the Endangered Species Act. Spokeswoman Georgia Parham said Thursday that decisions on listings can be put off under certain circumstances, but she didn't know whether the case of the northern long-eared bat would qualify.

White-nose syndrome, a fungal disease, has killed more than 5.7 million bats since it turned up in New York in 2006, according to the research and advocacy group Bat Conservation International. It has been detected in 25 states, most recently in Michigan and Wisconsin, which announced the discoveries April 10.

The northern long-eared is among the affected types. It's also one of more than 750 species covered by a settlement between the federal government and the Center for Biological Diversity, which had sued the Fish and Wildlife Service demanding quicker decisions on a backlog of petitions to add species to the endangered and threatened lists.

In their letter, the state officials said action was needed to protect the northern long-eared bat and prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome.

"However, we believe that all such measures should be appropriately tailored, based on sound scientific data and inclusive of input from our agencies," they said.

Of particular concern are guidelines the Fish and Wildlife Service developed to protect the bats while it moves toward a decision. Although voluntary, the state officials said they were overly restrictive and could influence rules that would be made after the bat gets its designation.

The guidelines discourage cutting large areas of timber between April and September, when the bats may be living in tree cavities or under loose bark, as well as land management methods such as prescribed burns and herbicide applications needed to control invasive species, state officials say.

"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," said the letter signed by natural resource chiefs Cathy Stepp of Wisconsin, Cameron Clark of Indiana, Keith Creagh of Michigan and Tom Landwehr of Minnesota.

Groups representing loggers, paper mills and related businesses also are clamoring for a chance to negotiate with federal officials.

"There's a way for us to successfully coexist and protect the bats and other species," said Brenda Owen, executive director of the Michigan Association of Timbermen. "But we need a little common sense and perspective."

Loggers could protect bats even while harvesting through measures such as leaving behind more dead and broken trees with crevices that provide good habitat, said Henry Schienebeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association. The group is considering working with schools to build bat houses that loggers could place in the woods, he said.

The federal agency has yet to respond to the letter, but Parham said it would consider comments submitted by state officials, industry and environmental groups, and others as staffers refine the proposal.

Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the industry and state officials were overreacting. She contended that rules needed for the northern long-eared bat would differ little from those already in place to protect another species, the Indiana bat, which lives in many of the same areas.

The upper Great Lakes region is one of the few remaining strongholds for the northern long-eared, which is about 3 inches long and has light to dark brown fur and prominent ears. About 98 percent of the New England population has disappeared in recent years, Matteson said.

"I don't see a lot of compromise in protecting a species on the brink of extinction like this," she said.

 

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