Jan. 15, 2015
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Special Rule to Focus Protections for Northern Long-Eared Bat
Rule Would Apply if Species is Listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act
Northern long-eared bat. Photo courtesy of Steven Thomas/National Park Service.
In response to the rapid and severe decline of the northern long-eared bat – a species important for crop pest control – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing a special rule under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that would provide the maximum benefit to the species while limiting the regulatory burden on the public.
If finalized, the rule, under section 4(d) of the ESA, would apply only in the event the Service lists the bat as “threatened.” The Service’s proposal will appear in the Federal Register Jan. 16, 2015, opening a 60-day public comment period.
“White-nose syndrome is having a devastating effect on the nation’s bat populations, which play a vital role in sustaining a healthy environment and save billions of dollars by controlling forest and agricultural pests,” said Service Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius. “We need to do what we can to make sure we are putting commonsense protections in place that support vulnerable bat species but are targeted to minimize impact on human activities. Through this proposed 4(d) rule, we are seeking public comment on how we can use the flexibilities inherent in the ESA to protect the bat and economic activity.”
The Service proposed to list the northern long-eared bat as endangered under the ESA in October 2013 and is due to make a final decision by April 2, 2015. The Service’s options include listing the species as endangered; listing as threatened; listing as threatened with a 4(d) rule; and withdrawing the proposal to list.
“While we originally proposed the northern long-eared bat as endangered, the ongoing scientific review of threats to the species could possibly lead to a final listing determination of threatened rather than endangered,” Melius added. “Although a final listing decision has not yet been made, we believe we can best serve the American people by proposing and seeking comment on a potential 4(d) rule now, so if we determine listing as threatened with a 4(d) rule is appropriate, the rule can be implemented immediately.”
Bat populations have declined sharply across the country due to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease affecting cave-hibernating bats. Some human activities also impact these species, particularly close to their hibernation caves, creating heightened challenges for bat populations already weakened by disease.
The northern long-eared bat is found in the United States from Maine to North Carolina on the Atlantic Coast, westward to eastern Oklahoma and north through the Dakotas, reaching into eastern Montana and Wyoming. In some caves in the Northeast, northern long-eared bat populations have declined by up to 99 percent. White-nose syndrome or the fungus causing the disease is found in much of the northern long-eared bat’s range.
For areas of the country affected by white-nose syndrome, the measures provided in the proposed 4(d) rule exempt take from forest management practices, maintenance and limited expansion of transportation and utility rights-of-way, removal of trees and brush to maintain prairie habitat, and limited tree removal projects, provided these activities protect known maternity roosts and hibernacula. The proposed 4(d) rule also exempts take as a result of removal of hazardous trees, removal of northern long-eared bats from human dwellings, and research-related activities. These measures are designed to protect northern long-eared bats when they are most vulnerable, including when they occupy hibernacula and during the two-month pup-rearing season from June through July. The greatest potential restrictions would be during these months, with reduced restrictions at all other times.
In parts of the country not affected by white-nose syndrome, the proposed rule recognizes activities that result in incidental take of bats are not imperiling the species, and all will be exempt from the act’s protections.
Since the outbreak of white-nose syndrome in North America, the Service has led the coordinated national response of states, federal agencies, tribes, conservation organizations and scientific institutions to address the problem through disease monitoring and management, conservation and outreach. Working with the goals identified in the national white-nose syndrome response plan, the Service has granted more than $20 million to institutions and federal and state agencies for research and response. The national effort has united experts in bat biology, wildlife disease, wildlife ecology, ecosystem management and other fields to share information and seek measures to address white-nose syndrome and bat conservation.
Under the ESA, an endangered designation indicates a species is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range; a threatened designation means a species is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. The act and the Service’s implementing regulations prohibit take, including harming, harassing and killing, of endangered and threatened species unless otherwise permitted.
For species listed as threatened, the Service may issue a 4(d) rule to provide protections that are deemed necessary and advisable for conservation of the species. Such a rule ensures private landowners and citizens are not unduly burdened by regulations that do not further the conservation of the species and are exempted from take prohibitions when conducting activities that actively benefit the species.
The Service is seeking public comment on the proposed 4(d) rule and is accepting comments on its October 2013 proposal to list the northern long-eared bat under the ESA. Comments are accepted through March 17, 2015. Specifically, the Service is seeking comment on whether it may be appropriate to exempt incidental take as a result of other categories of activities beyond those covered in the proposed rule and if so, under what conditions and with what conservation measures.
You may submit comments by one of the following methods:
- Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter Docket No. FWS–R5–ES–2011–0024. You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!'' Please ensure you have found the correct rulemaking before submitting your comment.
- 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, MS: BPHC; 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, Va. 22041-3803.
All comments will be posted on http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means we will post any personal information you provide us. If you previously submitted comments or information on the October 2013 proposed rule to list the northern long-eared bat, please do not resubmit them. We have incorporated them into the public record, and we will consider them fully in our final determination.
For more information about the northern long-eared bat, the proposal to list and the proposed 4(d) rule, go to: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/nleb/ and http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/mammals/nlba/.