- What action is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service taking?
- What is white-nose syndrome?
- What is the tricolored bat and where is it found?
- What scientific data and analysis did the Service use to evaluate the status of the tricolored bat?
- Are there other species that are likely to be listed as a result of white-nose syndrome?
- What is the difference between “endangered” and “threatened” under the ESA?
- Are there other threats to the tricolored bat besides white-nose syndrome?
- Is the Service proposing to designate critical habitat?
- How will listing the tricolored bat, if finalized, affect activities such as forest management and wind turbine operation?
- Will listing the tricolored bat mean that I can’t cut trees on my property?
- Whom do I contact with questions regarding my project activities if they may affect the tricolored bat?
- Tricolored bats in my area are not suffering from white-nose syndrome. Why should our activities be curtailed?
- What are the Service and partners doing to conserve the tricolored bat?
- What can I do to help the tricolored bat?
- How can I comment on the proposal to list the tricolored bat as endangered?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to list the tricolored bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). After a review of the best available scientific and commercial information, we find that the species meets the definition of an endangered species under the Act meaning that it is currently in danger of extinction. The primary threat to the species, white-nose syndrome, has led to dramatic declines in tricolored bat populations. White-nose syndrome has caused estimated declines of more than 90 percent in affected tricolored bat colonies and is currently present across 59 percent of the species’ range. If finalized, the rule will list the tricolored bat as an endangered species on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
White-nose syndrome is a disease of hibernating bats named for an exotic, invasive white fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans) which grows on the muzzle, wings, and other soft tissues of bats. The fungus thrives in cold, dark, damp places and infects bats during hibernation. Impacted bats wake up more frequently, which often results in dehydration and starvation before spring arrives. Only bats are known to be affected by white-nose syndrome, which has been confirmed in 38 states and eight Canadian provinces. Learn more about white-nose syndrome.
The tricolored bat is one of the smallest bats in eastern North America, and as the name suggests, is distinguished by its unique tricolored fur that appears dark at the base, lighter in the middle, and dark at the tip. Tricolored bats are nocturnal animals that commonly eat small moths, beetles, and other insects among the trees along waterways and forest edges. Tricolored bats use echolocation (emit high-pitched sounds and listen for their reflection) to find prey and navigate their habitat.
During winter, tricolored bats hibernate in caves, abandoned mines, and abandoned tunnels ranging from small to large in size. In the southern U.S., tricolored bats may hibernate in road-associated culverts. During spring, summer and fall months, they roost primarily among leaf clusters of live or recently dead deciduous hardwood trees. They also roost among Spanish moss in the south and bearded lichen in the north.
The tricolored bat’s range includes much of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains (39 states), southern portions of four Canadian provinces from the Atlantic Coast west to the Great Lakes, and portions of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and Nicaragua near the Gulf of Mexico. The species’ range in the United States includes Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia.
4. What scientific data and analysis did the Service use to evaluate the status of the tricolored bat?
The Service completed a species status assessment to evaluate current and future conditions of the bat. We reached out to partners (Tribal, state, Federal and other) across the species’ range to garner all relevant and available data to inform the assessment, including capture records, colony surveys, and acoustic recordings. Most of these data were collected by state and Federal agencies and were submitted to the North American Bat Monitoring Program or directly to the Service.
To assess the tricolored bat’s viability, we used the three conservation biology principles of resiliency, redundancy, and representation in developing the species status assessment. Briefly, resiliency supports the ability of the species to withstand random environmental and demographic variations year-to-year (for example, wet or dry, warm or cold years, or years with low reproductive success); redundancy supports the ability of the species to withstand catastrophic events (for example, droughts, large pollution events); and representation supports the ability of the species to adapt over time to long-term changes in the environment (for example, ). In general, the more resilient and redundant a species is and the more representation it has, the more likely it is to sustain populations over time, even under changing environmental conditions. Using these principles, we identified the species’ ecological requirements for survival and reproduction at the individual, population and species levels, and described the beneficial and risk factors influencing the species’ viability.
The species status assessment process can be categorized into three sequential stages. During the first stage, we evaluated the individual species’ life-history needs. The next stage involved an assessment of the historical and current condition of the species’ demographics and habitat characteristics, including an explanation of how the species arrived at its current condition. The final stage of the species status assessment involved making predictions about the species’ responses to positive and negative environmental and anthropogenic influences to determine its range of potential future conditions. Throughout all these stages, we used the best available information to characterize viability as the ability of a species to sustain populations in the wild over time. We used this information to inform our regulatory decision to propose listing the tricolored bat as endangered.
The Service completed Species Status Assessments in 2021 for three species affected by white-nose syndrome: the northern long-eared bat, the tricolored bat, and the little brown bat. Informed by these assessments, the Service proposed to reclassify the northern long-eared bat from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act (March 2022) and is now proposing to list the tricolored bat as endangered under the Act. Under the Service’s national listing workplan, the review of the little brown bat is scheduled to be completed during Fiscal Year 2023, which ends September 30, 2023. No additional white-nose-syndrome-susceptible bat species are under assessment at this time.
The ESA describes two categories of species that warrant Federal protections – “endangered” and “threatened”– and provides these definitions:
Endangered: any species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range
Threatened: any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
The primary factor threatening the tricolored bat is white-nose syndrome. However, because populations of the bat are depressed by this disease, human activities and other factors that were not significant before may be so now. Mortality of tricolored bats at wind energy facilities is proving to be a consequential stressor at local and regional levels, especially in combination with impacts from white-nose syndrome. Most bat mortality at wind energy projects is caused by direct collisions with moving turbine blades. Wind energy development currently overlaps with 53% of tricolored bat’s range in the U.S. and is expanding.
Climate change variables, such as changes in temperature and precipitation, may influence tricolored bat resource needs, such as suitable roosting habitat for all seasons, foraging habitat, and prey availability. Although the tricolored bat may benefit from changes in precipitation or temperature associated with a changing climate in some areas, we anticipate increasing landscape-scale negative impacts in the future.
Habitat loss and fragmentation may result in loss of suitable roosting or foraging habitat, requiring individuals to fly greater distances to rest and feed.
The Service has determined that designating critical habitat is not prudent because current or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of the species’ habitat or range is not having range-wide effects on the species. Furthermore, identifying locations of bat roosts may increase risk of direct harm to tricolored bats or modification and vandalism of their habitat.
9. How will listing the tricolored bat, if finalized, affect activities such as forest management and wind turbine operation?
The Service works with forest managers, wind facility operators, and project proponents to find strategies to avoid take (harming or killing) of listed bats using our various conservation tools, authorities, and programs. Under ESA section 7, we consult with Federal agencies to avoid and minimize adverse effects to listed species. Under ESA section 10, we work with non-federal public and private groups and individuals to develop habitat conservation plans for listed species. These plans, developed as part of an application for incidental take under the ESA, outline measures the applicant will implement to avoid, minimize, and mitigate any unintentional take resulting from otherwise lawful activities covered in the plan. Such plans provide management flexibility and predictability for landowners, project managers and other non-federal groups while providing long-term conservation for listed species.
The listing would not prevent property owners from cutting trees, however tree cutting may kill or injure tricolored bats. Land managers within the range of the tricolored bat are encouraged to contact their local Ecological Services Field Office in order to determine the potential impacts of tree removal projects. Where tricolored bats continue to occur on the landscape, the potential impacts vary depending on the timing, location, and extent of habitat disturbance and removal. Land managers seeking to reduce the risk of inadvertently harming and/or killing bats or to proactively conserve, restore, and enhance forested habitats for WNS-affected bat species can find Best Forest Management Practices here. When take (harming or killing) of tricolored bats is unavoidable, the Service can assist land managers in obtaining authorization for the taking.
11. Whom do I contact with questions regarding my project activities if they may affect the tricolored bat?
For questions about projects that may affect the tricolored bat, please contact your local Ecological Services Field Office. A searchable list of field offices is available here.
12. Tricolored bats in my area are not suffering from white-nose syndrome. Why should our activities be curtailed?
While white-nose syndrome is the primary factor threatening the tricolored bat across 59 percent of its range, population declines of more than 90 percent in affected colonies have reduced species numbers to such a degree that human activities and other factors that were not significant before may be so now. The most effective way to support recovery of the species is by conserving existing habitats and populations that support and protect surviving tricolored bats.
WNS Research and Response
The Service leads the coordinated national response to combat white-nose syndrome (WNS), alongside more than 150 partnering non-governmental organizations, institutions, Tribes, and state and Federal agencies that are organized under the White-nose Syndrome National Response Team. The partnership works cooperatively to identify and conduct critical research into WNS in order to develop strategies that minimize current and future impacts of the disease and recover affected bat populations. The collaborative response effort has yielded scientific advancements and innovative treatments to slow the disease and improve survival of bats. Through coordinated research, management, monitoring, and partnerships, the White-nose Syndrome National Response is working together to apply our combined knowledge to conserving the nation’s bats.
Between 2008 and 2021, the Service awarded more than $46 million to states, Tribes, Federal agencies, research institutions, and nongovernmental organizations to address critical information needs and advance research and development of tools needed to combat WNS. These efforts include conducting experimental field treatments for WNS and implementing adaptive management strategies for affected bats. These funds have supported the testing of WNS treatments including experimental vaccinations; investigations into the health and persistence of chronically impacted bats and estimating vulnerability of bats newly exposed; efforts to study the potential for bats to evolve genetic resistance to WNS; and identification and protection of roosts important to recovering populations. Past and current research addresses critical life history information and tests effectiveness of different management activities including roost disinfection tools, antifungal treatments, and a vaccine for tricolored bat and other affected species. Future work will also benefit the species through research and development of management options, with a focus on WNS as the primary threat to this bat.
The Service led development of the National Plan for Assisting states, Federal Agencies, and Tribes in Managing White-nose Syndrome in Bats (2011) and subsequent White-nose Syndrome Implementation Plan (2015). The national plan outlines actions necessary for state, Federal and Tribal coordination, and provides an overall strategy for addressing this threat to hibernating bats, including the tricolored bat. The plan is a framework for coordinating and managing the investigation and response to WNS and establishes the framework through which emerging management options can be implemented efficiently and effectively as they become available. That framework includes five working groups: surveillance and diagnostics, data management, conservation and recovery, communications and outreach, and disease management.
The White-nose Syndrome Conservation and Recovery Working Group developed several products that can benefit tricolored bat (and all WNS impacted bats). For example, recommended bat-friendly management practices have been developed for transportation agencies working with bats roosting under bridges, wildlife control operators, wildlife rehabilitators, and forest managers. Learn more about these products.
Abundance and Trend Studies
Many entities (e.g., states, U.S. Forest Service, National Wildlife Refuges) are conducting both acoustic and colony-count surveys as part of a larger effort to help determine bat species trends. The North American Bat Monitoring Program (NABat) is a multi-national, multi-agency coordinated bat monitoring program across North America. This collaborative bat monitoring program is made up of an extensive community of partners across the continent who use standardized protocols to gather data that allow us to assess population status and trends, inform responses to stressors, and sustain viable populations.Learn more about NABat.
The Service is funding the Department of Defense and U.S. Geological Survey to conduct regional occupancy analyses of previously collected acoustic data from sites across the eastern U.S. Results will be informative to determine where to focus future conservation efforts for tricolored bat and other bat species and will contribute to the status and trends analyses by NABat.
Support habitat conservation:
In the spring, summer and fall, tricolored bats roost primarily among live and dead leaf clusters of live or recently dead trees. In southern portions of the range, they may also roost in Spanish moss; and in northern parts of the range, they may also roost in lichen. You can help to conserve the tricolored and other bats by leaving this habitat in place where safety considerations allow.
Support disease management efforts:
Although spread of WNS happens mainly from bats to other bats, humans visiting caves and other hibernacula can also inadvertently carry the fungus between caves and other bat habitats on their clothing and gear. Through our actions, people can play an important role in conservation efforts by observing recommendations and regulations designed to protect bat caves and mines where bats roost and hibernate. Restricting visits and contact with roost and hibernation areas, avoiding movement of equipment and clothing among different hibernacula, and cleaning gear used in and around bat habitats can help prevent the spread of WNS and reduce risk to tricolored bats. Public participation in and support for the national WNS response plan is essential for the plan to be effective. Learn more about decontamination protocols and the national plan.
Visit local parks, refuges and sanctuaries:
While you enjoy these areas, your entrance fees and donations provide essential funds to manage and conserve habitat for plants and animals that rely on these lands. Visiting parks and refuges also provides opportunities to learn more about wildlife in your area.
Avoid disturbing hibernating bats:
Repeated interruption of hibernation can be harmful to bats. Minimizing activity in caves, mines and other locations where they spend the winter avoids disturbance that can cause excessive energetic demands and lead to mortality of bats. For the protection of bats and their habitats, comply with all cave and mine closures and regulations. If you are in an area without a cave and mine closure policy, follow all approved decontamination protocols.
Support sustainable living:
Support efforts in your community, county and state to ensure that sustainability is a development goal. Making choices that aim to reduce our individual and collective environmental impact helps alleviate some of the pressures and threats on imperiled species, like the tricolored bat, and their habitat.
Spread the word:
Understanding the important ecological role that bats play is key to conserving the tricolored bat. Helping people learn more about the tricolored bat and other endangered species can lead to more effective recovery efforts.
Join and volunteer:
Join a conservation group; many have local chapters. Volunteer at a local nature center, land trust, zoo, or National Wildlife Refuge. Many state natural resource agencies benefit greatly from public involvement in monitoring wildlife. Check your state agency websites and get involved in community science efforts in your area.
The proposed rule to list the tricolored bat as endangered appears in the September 14, 2022 Federal Register. Comments on the proposal may be submitted through November 14, 2022 by one the following methods: