For Immediate Release, January 24, 2023
Ragan Whitlock, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 426-3653, email@example.com
24 Groups Urge Federal Overhaul of Weak Habitat Protections for Florida Bat
2022 Proposal Marks 21% Reduction in Protected Habitat
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— More than twenty environmental organizations have urged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to provide additional habitat protections for the Florida bonneted bat. The endangered native bats face devastating habitat loss from climate change and urban sprawl.
Following a court-ordered agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed critical habitat for the Florida bonneted bat in November. As noted in the groups’ letter, sent Monday, the 2022 proposal removed protections from more than 250,000 acres that had been in a previous 2020 proposal. The Fish and Wildlife Service also arbitrarily excluded key foraging habitat used by urban bat populations and increasingly important artificial bat houses.
“Florida bonneted bats desperately need critical habitat protection, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has excluded crucial areas threatened by development right now,” said Ragan Whitlock, a Florida-based attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These vulnerable bats deserve better. Federal officials should revise their plan to safeguard all the places the animals need to survive and recover.”
“The Florida bonneted bat is the rarest bat in the United States,” said Lauren Jonaitis, senior conservation director of Tropical Audubon Society. “This species has suffered from habitat loss due to rapid land development and climate change, which has reduced its natural roost availability. For these reasons, we need the Service to revise the final designation in order to prevent further decline of the species or possible extinction.”
“If we have any chance of protecting the Florida bonneted bat from extinction, we need more meaningful habitat protections than the current plan provides,” said Melqui Gamba-Rios, Ph.D., endangered species interventions research fellow with Bat Conservation International.
Although the federal proposal acknowledges the bats and their habitat are threatened by climate change and sea-level rise, the Service also failed to extend badly needed protections for unoccupied critical habitat. Climate change and sea-level rise, along with continued population growth and projected human migration away from coasts, will likely force the Florida bonneted bat northward and inland into unoccupied areas of Florida. Protections for unoccupied critical habitat will be essential to ensure the bats have a place to go.
The federal proposal also excludes areas with “humanmade structures” — even those known to be used by the bat. This exclusion contradicts available science showing that several bat populations depend on bat houses and urban foraging areas to survive. It also risks leaving bonneted bats’ most important foraging area in Miami-Dade County unprotected in the face of the proposed Miami Wilds water park and retail development.
Several conservation groups have notified the National Park Service that it unlawfully signed off on that water park in 2022 without necessary federal environmental review.
Animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely to be moving toward recovery than species without such protections. Federal agencies that fund or permit projects in critical habitat are required to consult with the Service to ensure this habitat is not harmed or destroyed by their actions.
Development and pesticide use nearly drove Florida bonneted bats extinct before Center litigation compelled the Service to protect the species in 2013 under the Endangered Species Act. Conservation groups sued again in 2018 and then once more this year to secure habitat safeguards for the species.
Named for the broad ears that hang over their foreheads, bonneted bats are the largest of Florida’s 13 bat species and the second largest in North America. The bats roost in old tree cavities and artificial structures, and they forage for insects over dark open spaces. They also use one of the lowest-frequency echolocation calls of all bats, so some people are able to hear the bonneted bats’ bird-like chirps as they hunt for insects.
Florida bonneted bats have one of the smallest ranges of any bat species. They live only in South Florida — an area that’s highly susceptible to rising sea levels, impacts from major storms, and development. Projections indicate that sea levels will rise between 3 and 6 feet within much of the bats’ habitat over the course of this century.
The 2022 Fish and Wildlife Service proposal follows a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Tropical Audubon Society and the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
Tropical Audubon Society is a science- and solutions-based nonprofit conservation organization driven by its grassroots community and principles of equity, diversity and inclusion. Tropical Audubon’s Legacy is to protect, conserve and restore South Florida ecosystems by working closely with local governments and other stakeholders, and by fostering wise stewardship of native habitats, birds and other indigenous wildlife.
Founded in 1982, Bat Conservation International is a global conservation organization dedicated to ending bat extinctions. Bat Conservation International works worldwide to conserve caves, restore critical habitats in danger, and ensure the survival of the world’s bat species. For more information, visit batcon.org.