Biodiversity: Facing white-nose syndrome, northern long-eared bats proposed for endangered species listing
FRISCO – Threatened by white-nose syndrome, wind farms and habitat destruction, northern long-eared bats may soon get some additional protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this month proposed the listing, singling out white-nose syndrome as the primary threat in response to a petition filed by conservation groups.
The fungal disease has already killed about 5.5 million cave-hibernating bats in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and Canada. Populations of the northern long-eared bat in the Northeast have declined by 99 percent since symptoms of white-nose syndrome were first observed in 2006.
The northern long-eared bat is found across much of the eastern and north central United States, and all Canadian provinces from the Atlantic Ocean west to the southern Yukon Territory and eastern British Columbia.
The Service’s proposal opens a 60-day public comment period on the proposal to protect the northern long-eared bat as endangered. Over the next 12 months, the Service will evaluate information provided during the comment period to make a final decision on listing the species. The proposal appeared in the October 2, 2013, Federal Register.
White-nose syndrome is a fungal disease known to cause high mortality in bats that hibernate in caves. The fungus causing the disease thrives in low temperatures and high humidity – conditions commonly found in caves and mines where northern long-eared bats hibernate.
While the eastern small-footed bat also hibernates in caves and mines, it has not shown the drastic decline at winter hibernacula compared with that experienced by the northern long-eared bat. As a result, the USFWS decided that eastern small-footed bats do not qualify for listing.
White-nose syndrome has spread rapidly throughout the East and is currently establishing a foothold in the Midwest. Although there is debate as to how fast white-nose syndrome may spread throughout the species’ range, current model predictions suggest it will likely spread throughout the United States.
If northern long-eared bat are listed, they’ll be protected from take – harming, harassing, killing – and federal agencies will work to conserve the bat and its habitat as they fund, authorize or carry out activities. In addition, a recovery plan will be developed for the species.
The USFWS also found that they aren’t yet able to designate critical habitat. The agency will work to identify areas of critical habitat and develop a proposal within 12 months.
Before the emergence of white-nose syndrome, the northern long-eared bat was found in 39 states, including the District of Columbia, with higher abundance in the East and becoming increasingly rare moving west.
Other threats include:
- Impacts to Hibernacula: Gates or other structures to exclude people from caves and mines restrict bat flight and movement and change airflow and internal cave and mine microclimates. A few degrees change can make a cave unsuitable for hibernating bats. Also, cave-dwelling bats are vulnerable to human disturbance while hibernating. Bats use up their energy stores when aroused and may not survive the winter or females may not successfully give birth or rear young.
- Loss or Degradation of Summer Habitat: Highway and commercial development, surface mining, and wind facility construction permanently remove habitat and are prevalent in many areas of this bat’s range. Timber harvest and forest management can remove or alter (improving or degrading) summer roosting and foraging habitat.
- Wind Farm Operation: Wind turbines kill bats, including northern long-eared bats, although only a small number have been documented to date. However, there are many wind projects within a large portion of the bat’s range and many more are planned.
The Service is looking for comments on the proposal to list the northern long-eared bat. The comment period is open through Dec. 2.
Electronically at http://www.regulations.gov. In the Keyword box, enter Docket No. FWS–R5–ES–2011–0024, which is the docket number for the rulemaking. Then, in the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, click on the Proposed Rules link to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Send a Comment or Submission.” If your comments will fit in the provided comment box, please use this feature of http://www.regulations.gov, as it is most compatible with our comment review procedures. If you attach your comments as a separate document, our preferred file format is Microsoft Word. If you attach multiple comments (such as form letters), our preferred format is a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel.
By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R5–ES–2011–0024; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042–PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.
The Service requests that you send comments only by the methods described above. The Service will post all information received on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that the Service will post any personal information you provide.
For more information on the proposal to list the northern long-eared bat, the petition finding for the eastern small-footed bat, and other endangered species information, go to http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/mammals/nlba/index.html.
For more information about white-nose syndrome visit www.whitenosesyndrome.org.
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