MILWAUKEE – Four Great Lakes states have asked federal authorities to delay plans to protect an imperiled bat species because the proposed restrictions could have a “crippling effect” on the forest industry and harm owners of private and public land.
Environmental agencies in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana told the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an April 17 letter that the states favor protections for the northern long-eared bat, but argue the draft rules go too far.
Wisconsin listed four cave-dwelling bats in 2011, including the northern long-eared, as threatened species because of the imminent arrival of fungal disease that has killed millions of bats in the eastern United States and Canada.
The Department of Natural Resources confirmed April 10 that white-nose syndrome had been detected for the first time in little brown and northern long-eared bats in Grant County, in southwestern Wisconsin.
Despite concerns about the spread of the disease, directors of natural resources agencies in the four states wrote that a plan by the Fish and Wildlife Service to minimize the public’s contact with bat habitats is “overly restrictive and too broad.”
The letter is the latest example of conflicts arising from the federal Endangered Species Act. The 40-year-old law was instrumental in reviving the fortunes of the American bald eagle and other species. But it has also engendered conflict when protective measures rub up against other uses for the land.
In this case, the Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing an array of measures to avoid killing or injuring the bat until making a final decision on whether to list the northern long-eared bat as an endangered species. That decision should come in October.
Meanwhile, one key restriction calls for avoiding cutting of bat habitat during the summer maternity season, from April 1 to Sept. 30.
“That’s pretty much the whole state,” said Erin Crain, director of the Department of Natural Resources’ Bureau of Natural Heritage Conservation. “That’s pretty much the summer logging season.”
Georgia Parham, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, agreed that the restrictions are broad, but said they could be tailored as the agency digests the comments of states, environmental groups and industry.
The light-brown bat, with large, pronounced ears, has been decimated in portions of the eastern U.S. Officials estimate that more than 5.7 million bats of different species have been killed since white-nose syndrome was discovered in New York in 2006.
“It’s a poster child for threatened species if there ever was one,” said Mollie Matteson, bat specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate the bat as a protected species. Without protections, northern long-eared bats will be wiped from the landscape as they were elsewhere in the country, she said.
In the summer, the bat roosts during the day in buildings, caves and beneath tree bark. It hibernates in winters in caves and old mines. As prolific insect eaters, bats play an important role in ecology.
A 2011 study published in Science magazine examined the economic impact of bat populations and concluded that in Wisconsin alone bats provided an annual economic benefit of $658 million to $1.5 billion.
DNR wildlife staff started looking at the pending regulations earlier this year and later began to hear from the forest industry, Crain said. The comment period ended on Jan. 2, however, and documents show many objections in other states from the timber, mining and wind-power industries.
“With these restrictions, and others, it keeps narrowing the door,” said Henry Schienebeck, executive director of the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association, based in Rhinelander. “We need to keep supplying our (paper) mills, and lot of mills depend on fresh-cut timber.”
The federal rules, if approved, would trump the more-flexible state protections. Crain said her counterparts in Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana want more time to tailor restrictions that are less burdensome on industry.
Distributed by MCT Information Services