From: Center for Biological Diversity
Published April 26, 2016 12:13 PM

Long-eared bat denied habitat protection under the Endangered Species Act

Although northern long-eared bat populations have declined by 90 percent in their core range, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today said it will not protect any of its critical habitat, saying it would not be “prudent” for the species. Under the Endangered Species Act, the government can opt not to designate critical habitat if there is factual evidence that a species would be placed at greater risk of extinction from poachers, collectors or vandals. But in the case of the northern long-eared bat, which is listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, there is almost no evidence that the species is at risk from these types of threats. Instead its dramatic decline has been driven mostly by disease and habitat loss.  

“This is a terrible turn of events for the northern long-eared bat,” said Tanya Sanerib, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If you don’t protect the places endangered species live, it becomes that much harder to save them. This is yet another instance where the Fish and Wildlife Service has gone out of its way to appease special interests rather than protecting our most vulnerable animals.”

The northern long-eared bat was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2015 as the result of a 2010 petition from the Center. The Service proposed protection for the bat as “endangered,” but following intense pressure from industry the agency backpedaled and protected the bat as “threatened” with a special rule that allows ongoing destruction of its habitat. The northern long-eared bat is a forest-dependent species and is threatened by logging, mining, oil and gas development and other activities that clear forest cover. In a bow to industry, after initially acknowledging that habitat loss threatens the bat, the Service is now focusing solely on the disease known as white-nose syndrome. 

“To put it simply, the Fish and Wildlife Service isn’t protecting habitat for the bat because it would be inconvenient for them to stand up to industry — not because it wouldn’t benefit the bat,” said Sanerib.

Despite scientific research showing that species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be on a path toward recovery as species without designated habitat, only half of endangered species have received critical habitat to date. Although Congress intended that the overwhelming majority of endangered species would receive critical habitat, the “not prudent” loophole has been repeatedly abused to avoid giving species the vital protections they need. In the case of the northern long-eared bat, the Fish and Wildlife Service has justified limits on the protections for the bat, arguing that white-nose syndrome is the only threat to the species that puts it at risk of extinction. The Service tailored the protections of the bat only to those areas within a quarter-mile of known wintering hibernacula, like caves, and to known maternity roosts where bats raise their young.

Critical habitat designations provide an additional layer of protections for endangered species by prohibiting federal agencies from taking actions that would adversely modify those areas. Critical habitat also guides conservation and recovery planning by identifying the most important areas for a species that need extra protection. However, unless an activity on private lands is funded or permitted by the federal government, a critical habitat designation has little impact on purely private actions.

Long-eared bat image via Shutterstock.

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