Two bat species may be added to the federal list of endangered species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the eastern small-footed and northern long-eared bats may warrant additional protection under the Endangered Species Act. If the species get federal protection, they will also receive protection from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
White nose syndrome, a white fungus that collects on the noses and wings of hibernating bats, has killed more than 1 million cave-hibernating bats in the state since it was first discovered near Albany in 2006. Since then, the fungal disease has spreads to other states and several provinces in Canada.
Carl J. Herzog, DEC wildlife biologist in Albany, said because of the state’s drastic decline in bat numbers, DEC was able to supply the service with information that supports the request to add these species to the endangered list.
“We were among the key suppliers for information to help them determine that these species should be placed on the list for additional protection,” Mr. Herzog said. “We’re really ground zero for white nose syndrome. The numbers we gave the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are figured very highly in the mix.”
The Service is conducting a more thorough review to determine if the bats should be added to the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife. A decision is expected sometime in late summer.
In Jefferson County, the bat population has declined more than 50 percent over the last couple of years,
If the two species are added to the federal list, they will also be considered endangered in the state, said James F. Farquhar, a DEC Region 6 wildlife biologist.
“The biggest loss we saw was at Glen Park,” Mr. Farquhar said. “This is a fairly big step the feds are taking because they get requests often.”
There are currently 12 bat species on the federal endangered list, including the Indiana bat, the most common found in Northern New York, and one on the threatened list; nine throughout the United States and four more around the world.
Northern long-eared bats used to be abundant in the state, Mr. Herzog said. They are not easy to count, like the Indiana bat, because the long-eared bats tend to hibernate in cracks and crevices.
“They certainly were not rare by any stretch of the imagination,” he said. “But today we already are at scary low numbers for the northern long-eared. We’ve seen a decline by 98 or 99 percent. Before white nose syndrome you had a 30 percent chance of catching one. These days, the last account of numbers we did in summer 2010 was 0.3 percent.”
The small-footed species, Mr. Herzog said were rare to begin with in the state. White nose syndrome has had less of an impact on this species as well as the big brown bat, Mr. Herzog said.
DEC is still trying to determine why some bats are more susceptible than others to the fungus.
What will the consequence be if bat die-off continues?
“Everybody asks that question and I wish I had the answer,” Mr. Herzog said. “The best objective answer is we really don’t know.”
One thing is pretty certain though.
“They are pretty effective insect eaters,” Mr. Farquhar said. “Ecologically, bats play a strong role in knocking the excess amount of bugs off.”
Mr. Farquhar said bats are important to the ecosystem and can eat up to their body weight in bugs per night.
“That adds up to quite a bit of bugs,” he said.
Adding the bats to a list of endangered species does not protect them from die-off caused by white nose syndrome.
“It does give us added regulations to prevent man made threats that could cause additional impact on them,” Mr. Herzog said. “But of course it is not going to help us address the most important threat to them right now. It’s not a game changer in this case. We’re really in uncharted territory, to deal with species that have declined so rapidly in such a short amount of time.
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