Last fall, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) proposed listing the northern long-eared bat as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Though a decision on the ESA listing was expected this fall, the USFWS recently delayed its deadline for a decision until April 2, 2015. The USFWS also reopened the comment period on the proposed ESA listing until Aug. 29, 2014, citing “substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency and accuracy of the available data relevant to our determination regarding the proposed listing.”
The northern long-eared bat would be the second native Ohio bat, after the Indiana bat, to be classified as an endangered species. Both bat species have suffered population declines in recent years as a result of a naturally occurring condition called white-nose syndrome, which affects the bats. If listed, Ohio oil and gas operators and pipeline companies would have to assess the impact of their activities on the northern long-eared bat, as is already required for the Indiana bat, and local and/or seasonal restrictions on certain kinds of construction or clearing activities are also likely.
According to the USFWS, the northern long-eared bat is found across 39 states, including much of the eastern and central United States. However, since 2006 its numbers have been declining because of a fungus that causes white-nose syndrome.
Significantly, the USFWS has not found any link between white-nose syndrome and the oil and gas industry or other commercial development. However, if listed, the USFWS already has stated its intention to preserve habitat to give the bats the best chance of surviving the spread of white-nose syndrome. The USFWS asserts that though surface mining and commercial development have not been shown to be the cause of significant population decline, those activities “may now be important factors affecting this bat’s ability to persist while experiencing dramatic decline caused by white-nose syndrome.”
What areas will receive most scrutiny and restrictions is still unknown because “critical habitat for the northern long-eared bat is not determinable at this time.” Further details about critical habitat and what conservation measures will be required should be forthcoming later this year after more information is gathered.
In the meantime, interested parties can find answers to frequently asked questions and instructions for submitting comments and scientific information on the USFWS website. Comments must be submitted by Aug. 29, 2014.