The northern long-eared bat needs federal protection before it disappears completely
Remember those summer nights, sitting outside, watching bats zip across the sky, feasting on insects? I barely can, and instead, I’m watching my friends get eaten alive by mosquitos. Bats are quickly disappearing from the eastern United States, plagued by a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome, which infects the caves where bats hibernate. White-nose syndrome has already killed nearly seven million bats in the past eight years. Although bat numbers plummet as the disease spreads westwards, scientists have yet to find a treatment or cure for this deadly plague. The northern long-eared bat is one of the worst-affected bat species, and has declined by 99% in its core range since the onset of white nose-syndrome. The disease has already invaded 25 states and five Canadian provinces where the bat is found. The species has even suffered local extinctions in its northeastern range. As the northern long-eared bat populations are decimated, they are even more vulnerable to climate change and human activities that degrade bat habitat, such as oil and gas development and logging.
Despite these overwhelming and drastic threats to the species, the Fish and Wildlife Service recently decided to delay federal protections for the northern long-eared bat for another six months. Last October, the agency proposed listing the northern long-eared bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, but political pressure from logging and oil and gas interests succeeded in getting the Service to delay making a decision. The agency claimed it received conflicting reports on how complete or accurate the science behind its proposed listing decision is, but the science is clear that the drastic population declines are real.
We can’t afford to allow the northern long-eared bat and other bat species to disappear. Bats provide invaluable ecological services to humans. A 2010 study estimated that bats provide billions of dollars’ worth of pest-control services to U.S. agriculture every year by eating insects. So far, conservation at the state level has not prevented the northern long-eared bat from sliding towards extinction; only federal protections and a coordinated federal effort have any hope of turning the tide.
The Service has re-opened the comment period on its decision until the end of August. In response, our legal team at Defenders has partnered with our conservation allies to urge Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and USFWS Director Dan Ashe to move quickly to list the northern long-eared bat as endangered, providing it the federal protection it needs to stave off extinction. We’re asking all our members and supporters to do the same so we can help save these bats before it’s too late .
Anne Russell Gregory is the Conservation Law Coordinator at Defenders of Wildlife