Northern long-eared bat, © Sybill Amelon/USFS

Bat-ting Zero: Our 114th Congress on Conservation

If you’ve been following Capitol Hill lately, you already know that we’re facing one of the most anti-science, anti-wildlife Congresses we’ve ever seen. Since January, Congress has introduced over 20 bills or amendments that undermine the Endangered Species Act (ESA). From wolves to the lesser prairie chicken, or even the ESA itself, some legislators seem fixated on meddling with the ESA’s scientific process, and relegating imperiled species to a path toward extinction.

One little critter that has recently found itself in Congress’s crosshairs is the northern long-eared bat. This bat is in crucial need of federal protection due to a disease called white-nose syndrome, which has killed more than 5.5 million bats in the Northeast and Canada since 2006. The disease, or the invasive fungus that causes it, has now spread to 28 of the 39 states within the northern long-eared bat’s range. In the species’ core range, the bat’s numbers have already declined by an estimated 99 percent due to the combined impacts of white-nose syndrome and human activities like logging, energy development, and pollution.

Yet despite this imminent threat and urgent pleas by scientists to increase protections, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has repeatedly delayed a final listing decision, instead bowing to political pressure from the timber and gas and oil industries, which do not want the species listed. And unfortunately, as we approach FWS’s April 2nd listing decision deadline, we expect conservation opponents in Congress to continue to try to weaken the already watered-down decision we will likely see to list the bat as threatened instead of endangered.

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Northern long-eared bat, © David J. Thomas/Flickr

At its heart, opposition to the bat’s listing, and to the ESA in general, centers on economics. Opponents of the ESA, including the members of Congress currently meddling in the listing process for the bat, have long smeared the statute as a business-stopping, job-killing law that cripples economies where endangered species reside. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The ESA is one of the most flexible conservation statutes on the books, and provides many tools and opportunities for private landowners to make use of their land while still protecting vulnerable species and their habitat. ESA opponents, polluting industries and special economic interests have always rolled out dire predictions of economic doom in the face of new regulations or new ESA listings. But these are just scare tactics.

The truth is: less than one half of one percent of all projects in formal consultation under the ESA are ever significantly modified or stopped. In other words, the ESA listing typically produces very little, if any, negative impact on the local economy.NLE bat, ©Al Hicks/NYDEC

Anyone concerned about the economic impacts of listing the northern long-eared bat should also pay attention to the billions of dollars’ worth of free services that bats provide every year to farmers and U.S. citizens in the form of pest control. A scientific study found that pest control services by bats save the agricultural industry at least $3.7 billion per year. Insect-eating bats make our lives better and more comfortable by eating the agricultural pests that target our food crops, as well as the blood-sucking mosquitos that make outdoor pursuits less appealing.

Another argument some stakeholders have made against listing the northern long-eared bat is that ESA protections won’t do anything to stop the spread of the primary threat to the bat – white nose syndrome. On the contrary, a listing would not only afford the bat the protections of the ESA, but also prioritize this species for funds, grants, and recovery opportunities – including grants related to white-nose syndrome research. And while FWS has determined that white-nose syndrome is the primary threat to the bat, it is not the only one, and listing would help to address other impacts to the species.

As the scientists at FWS approach a final decision on how best to protect this imperiled species, we urge Congress to recognize the inappropriateness of interfering with complex, science-based listing decisions, and abandon its reckless path towards extinction.

Northern Long-Eared Bat Timeline
• October 2, 2013: FWS proposes to list the northern long-eared bat as endangered
– FWS opens initial 60-day comment period
– FWS extends that comment period by an additional 30 days
• June 30, 2014: FWS publishes notice for a 6-month extension for the final listing determination
– FWS opens another 60-day comment period
• January 15, 2015: FWS publishes a proposed 4(d) rule, which would only apply if FWS lists the bat as threatened. The rule would exempt certain activities, including the vast majority of forest management activities, from the requirements of the ESA. It would also deny the species any legal protections at all in the part of its range not yet affected by WNS.
• January 27, 2015: Senator Ron Johnson [WI] introduces two amendments to the Keystone XL Pipeline bill during the last days of the amendment process. The proposals would have prevented FWS from listing the bat as an endangered species. The amendments are never introduced on the floor.
• March 2-4, 2015: FWS Director Dan Ashe receives two letters regarding the listing decision from members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Both letters call for more delay, inappropriate interference by Congress, and increased consideration of industry’s concerns with the listing.
• March 4, 2015: Senator John Thune [SD] introduces S. 655, which would prevent the Department of the Interior from using any funds to make a final determination on the listing of the northern long-eared bat
• March 16, 2015: FWS Director Dan Ashe receives another letter from 11 Republican members of Congress, asking FWS to delay its final listing decision for the bat and to extend the comment period on the 4(d) rule by two months.
• April 2, 2015: FWS’s final listing determination due

 

5 Responses to “Bat-ting Zero: Our 114th Congress on Conservation”

  1. Charlene

    as usual the little guy gets it, they creatures are a part of our own Eco system and need our protection. If for no other reason doesn’t it make sense to protect them in an effort to protect our selves as well? What we have is not endless yet we are continually destroying it. Wake up people and smell the roses before they are all gone and us with them.

  2. John Woodrum

    Isn’t it a shame how people can be so much like little kids in a toy store that they only look at material things that would make them more popular with their peers by owning more than them? Those of us who have evolved more maturely know how the use of the more material things will set man and nature back at least a century every time. By now, we have become a much earlier version of the prehistoric man, except we just walk and dress differently. Yet, as we apparently advance ourselves with greed, only a small percentage of us see the damage being done to every other life form which has a large role in the reason we are here. It’s just not visible to those blinded by greed. As man advances, so does his own demise.

    • Kathy Sutter

      It’s time to vote out ALL representatives that will not protect animals or who, for whatever reason, refuse to believe in science. We cannot keep delaying these protections for animals, especially endangered species. What are you going to tell your children when there are no animals left? Time to do the right thing, the moral thing

  3. Allison Lansberry

    We need to protect all wildlife but especially those in danger of extinction. It would not surprise me if the disease killing the bats (along with bees,birds, butterflies,toads etc) are due to the abundance of pesticides & herbacide in our environment. I & two others on My street got Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma after another neighbour saturated his lawn with Monsanto’s Roundup. Luckily I recovered. We need to protect our birds & bats who are natural pest controllers

  4. Kristy Swanson

    We had bats in the walls of our mostly log cabin in northern Minnesota and sometimes they got into the house. More caulking inside and outside was effective. At night while they were out catching insects, we finished that up and the bats had to relocate to bat houses we had installed nearby.

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