PORTLAND, Ore.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed northern long-eared bats as endangered today, reversing a previous “threatened” listing that allowed destructive activities like clearcutting to proceed in the bats' habitat.
Today’s action will give the bats far greater protection under the Endangered Species Act as they struggle to survive in the face of devastating white-nose syndrome and habitat destruction.
“Northern long-eared bats are on the brink of extinction, and that’s why we’ve been fighting tooth and nail to make sure they’re protected as an endangered species,” said Ryan Shannon, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We have to find a cure for the white-nose syndrome that’s killing these bats, and we have to protect the forests where they live. This endangered listing will help on both counts.”
Northern long-eared bats, who are found in 37 states and all of Canada, have seen devastating population declines since 2006, when white-nose syndrome first appeared. Following a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, the bats were listed as threatened in 2015, but with a rule that allowed almost all activities that destroy their habitat and harm them.
Today’s decision follows a successful lawsuit by the groups to overturn the threatened listing that allowed the habitat exemption.
“The endangered listing decision for the northern long-eared bat legally recognizes what the science has been telling us for years — that white-nose syndrome has caused catastrophic population declines but that human activities such as habitat destruction and improperly mitigated wind energy projects are also playing a role we can’t ignore,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The endangered listing will help us correct course and finally give the bat legal protections from the cumulative impacts of human-caused threats.”
White-nose syndrome, caused by a fungus originating in Europe, also affects 11 other bat species across North America. Biologists consider the fungus to be the most severe wildlife disease outbreak in history. As bat numbers dwindle, insect pest problems increase — with the potential to cause billions of dollars’ worth of agricultural damage.
“Today's decision will help to prevent the impacts of logging and forest clearing from compounding the devastating effects of white-nose syndrome, and undermining the potential for recovery,” said Sierra Club Senior Staff Attorney Karimah Schoenhut. “FWS deprived the northern long-eared bat of much-needed protections by listing the species as threatened instead of endangered in 2015.”
Northern long-eared bats are distinguishable from their close relatives by their long ears. They live in mature interior forests and forage along wooded hillsides and ridgelines. Because of this, they’re vulnerable to forest fragmentation from logging, oil and gas drilling, and other development, as well as contamination from pesticides.
“Northern long-eared bats need all the help they can get. Demolishing their habitat, such as mountaintop removal coal mining on Coal River Mountain, pushes them closer to extinction,” said Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Hopefully, the endangered designation will be a step toward protecting not only the bats but also their other neighbors, including the humans whose health is threatened by this destructive process.”