months laterAn endangered species, the Biden administration on Tuesday declared bats endangered in a last-ditch effort to save a species ravaged by a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome.
“White-nose syndrome is decimating cave-dwelling bat species at an unprecedented rate,” said Martha Williams, director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The agency is “deeply committed to working with partners on a balanced approach that minimizes disease impact and protects survivors to recover northern long-eared bat populations,” she said.
previously documentedThe disease has infected 12 types of bats and killed millions. The northern long-eared bat is one of the hardest hit, with an estimated decline of 97% or more in affected populations. The bat is found in 37 eastern and north-central states, as well as Washington, D.C., and most of Canada.
Named for the white, fuzzy spots that appear on infected bats, white-nose syndrome attacks the wings, snout, and ears of bats when they hibernate in caves and abandoned mines.
This causes them to wake up quickly from hibernation and sometimes fly outside. They can burn their winter fat stores and eventually starve.
The disease has spread to about 80% of the geographic range where northern long-eared bats live and is expected to cover it by 2025.
Another species decimated by the fungus is the tricolor bat, which the government proposed to classify as endangered in September. A third, smaller brown bat is being evaluated for possible listing.
Bats are believed to provide a $3 billion annual boost to US agriculture by eating insects and pollinating some plants.
The Fish and Wildlife Service designated the northern long-eared bat as threatened in 2015. With its status increasingly critical, the agency proposed an endangered listing in March and considered public comments before deciding how to proceed. The reclassification will be effective from January 30, 2023.
“This species is in grave danger, but we never want to give up hope,” said Winifred Frick, chief scientist for Bat Conservation International, a non-profit group. “When we work hard and have legal protections in place to protect these little colonies, we can do amazing things.”
In many cases, the service identifies “critical habitat” areas deemed particularly important to the survival of endangered species. Officials decided against doing this for the northern long-eared bat because habitat loss is not the primary cause of its decline, spokeswoman Georgia Parham said. He added that focusing on their winter hibernation spots could make things worse.
Recovery efforts will focus on wooded areas where the bats roost in summer—usually singly or in small groups, under bark or in tree cavities and crevices. Coming out at dusk, they feed on moths, beetles and other insects.
Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that they fund or authorize projects — such as logging, prescribed fires and highway construction — that protect a listed species. Will not endanger existence.
For non-federal landowners, actions that result in unintentional killings may be permitted but will require a permit.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said it would also work with wind power companies to reduce the likelihood that bats would collide with turbines. These conflicts currently threaten about half of the northern long-eared bat’s range, with potential to increase as wind energy development expands.
Karen Herrington, the Midwest regional coordinator for threatened and endangered species, said the service has approved about two dozen plans, with steps to move wind power and forestry projects forward.
Operators can limit the danger by reducing blade rotation during bat migration season and when winds are low.
Research is ongoing into ways to combat white-nose syndrome, including the development of a vaccine. The service has distributed more than $46 million to the campaign, which includes nearly 150 agencies, private organizations and Native American tribes.
“We have to find a cure for the white-nose syndrome that is killing our bats and we have to protect the forests where they live,” said Ryan Shannon, senior counsel for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “This endangered list will help on both counts.”