The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has proposed weakening protections for the northern long-eared bat by reducing its stats from “endangered” to “threatened”. Advocates for endangered species say FWS has included a special rule aimed at conceding to pressure from industries and politicians critical of the Endangered Species Act.
The less-protective proposal comes despite the fact that the bat, which has been decimated by the fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome, has already declined by up to 99 percent in the Northeast.
The northern long-eared bat is one of seven bat species affected by white-nose syndrome, a disease that scientists believe was introduced to North America from Europe, and which first appeared on bats in a cave near Albany in 2006. The disease has already spread to the Midwest, South and Great Lakes states, as well as into Canada. As a result of the northern long-eared bat’s dramatic decline, the Center petitioned to have the species listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2010.
In response to this petition, the Fish and Wildlife Service recommended in 2013 that the northern long-eared bat be listed as “endangered,” the most protective status under the Endangered Species Act. Advocates from the Center for Biological Diversity say that heavy push-back from the timber, oil and gas, mining, and wind-energy industries, delayed a final decision on the bat’s designation for six months and led to the walk-back from endangered, to threatened.
“With its latest proposal to downgrade the listing status of the northern long-eared bat from endangered to threatened, and allow exemptions for activities that might result in harm to the bat,” a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity said, “the Fish and Wildlife Service has retreated dramatically from its original recommendation. Listing decisions under the Endangered Species Act are supposed to be based strictly on the best available science, and not on economic, political or other factors.”
In November more than 80 bat scientists sent a letter to Fish and Wildlife director Dan Ashe, urging him to follow through with his agency’s recommendation to list the species as endangered. A final decision from the agency is due on April 2.
Photo: A northern long-eared bat with symptoms of white-nose syndrome. Photo by Steve Taylor; University of Illinois.