WASHINGTON— A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to determine whether the northern long-eared bat warrants listing as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act by December 2022 after remanding the Service’s flawed threatened listing last year.
The judge rejected the Service’s request to be given “an extraordinary three and a half to four years” to make a new listing determination for the bat as “unreasonable.”
“We’re thrilled the judge is holding this foot-dragging agency’s feet to the fire,” said Ryan Shannon, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Service has delayed providing the bat needed protections for far too long.”
In reconsidering, the Service should list the bat as endangered, given the severity of declines. If it’s protected as endangered, the animal will gain critical protections it was long denied as a threatened species. On top of that, the Service’s so-called “4(d) rule”—which allowed nearly all habitat-destroying activities within the bat’s range to proceed despite listing — would be rescinded if the bat is reclassified as endangered.
Once common in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states as well as in eastern Canada, the bat has suffered close to 99% declines in its range and is now found only in patches across 37 states and all of Canada. This is due largely to the fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome, which has killed hibernating bats by the millions.
“This is a huge victory for the northern long-eared bat,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “This bat is the hardest hit by white-nose syndrome and scientists are racing against the clock to develop and test interventions to protect them. The Service must act immediately to protect the remaining population before the clock runs out for good.”
Despite these devastating declines, the bat was listed as threatened rather than endangered in 2015.
In January 2020 the judge rejected the agency’s decision, finding that the Service had failed to explain why the species was not endangered after suffering catastrophic declines in the core of its range as a result of white-nose syndrome. The judge also found the Service failed to consider the cumulative effects of habitat destruction against that grim backdrop.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Coal River Mountain Watch and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition challenged the threatened listing in 2015.
“Protection of endangered species is essential to retaining the natural heritage of our region for future generations,” said Jim Kotcon, conservation chair for the West Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club. “Extinction is forever, and we will not get a second chance if they are lost because we failed to act in time. Our federal agencies charged with protecting endangered species need to return to that core mission.”
“Ongoing mountaintop-removal coal mining is destroying the northern long-eared bat's home on Coal River Mountain and elsewhere in Appalachia,” said Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Strong protective measures would benefit not only this endangered bat but also the humans in our communities who endure the deadly health impacts of this catastrophic process.”
The northern long-eared bat is associated with mature, interior forest environments. Unlike most other bats, the northern long-eared forages along wooded hillsides and ridgelines — not above valley-bottom streams and along the edges of riparian forests. The species is also much more solitary in its roosting and hibernating habits than other bats, preferring to hide in tight crevices and holes instead of hanging out in open areas within caves.
“This ruling is a relief, and it is not only about protecting bats. It can help protect the ecosystem services that bats provide and can help preserve wild habitat. That ultimately protects human health because our physical and economic well-being depend on a healthy ecosystem,” said Vivian Stockman, executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “This ruling adds another exclamation point to the declaration that the ecologically insane coal mining method called mountaintop removal/valley fill must be immediately and forever ended.”