ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— In response to a legal agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed to protect 1.5 million acres as critical habitat for the Florida bonneted bat. The bat is only found in South Florida and has seen its forest and wetland habitats plowed over and sprayed with pesticides for decades.
“These long-overdue safeguards are essential to bringing these spectacular bats back from the edge of extinction,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “With development ongoing across South Florida and sea levels rising, critical habitat protections give Florida’s bonneted bats a fighting chance at survival.”
The proposed 1.5 million acres of critical habitat are in areas of Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Sarasota counties that provide the physical and biological features necessary for the bat’s survival and recovery.
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 forage for insects over open spaces like wetlands and open fresh water. They also use one of the lowest-frequency echolocation calls of all bats, so some people are actually able to hear the bonneted bats’ bird-like chirps as they hunt for insects.
“The Florida bonneted bat requires urgent action for its conservation given the continued threats it faces due to habitat destruction and sea level rise,” said Paola Ferreira, executive director of the Tropical Audubon Society. “Designation of critical habitat is an indispensable step to protect this unique South Florida species. The protection of this habitat will also contribute to the conservation of important bird species and other species in peril.”
The Center, Tropical Audubon Society and the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association filed suit in October 2018 seeking critical habitat protection for the bonneted bat. The Service is accepting comments on the proposal until Aug. 10, 2020. The Center previously also sued to compel an Endangered Species Act listing decision for the bat in 2013.
Although bats have been identified as a possible source for COVID-19, neither Florida bonneted bats nor any other North American bats carry the virus, and they pose no risk to people. Every year bats provide billions of dollars’ worth of free pest control by eating tons of insects that attack crops and trees. Without bats, farmers and foresters may use more pesticides, spending more money and harming the environment.