Minnesota’s timber industry is hoping that it will avoid logging restrictions now that many forest and wildlife associations have concluded that the northern long-eared bat shouldn’t be declared an endangered species.
Millions of the bats have been killed by a fast-spreading cave fungus, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to decide this spring whether to add the species to the endangered list.
Such a move would trigger a blanket prohibition against killing the bats, even accidentally, which would halt logging in much of the country during warm months when the animals roost in the forest and raise their young in trees.
In a letter recently sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, regional associations representing 39 states say the northern long-eared bat doesn’t need that level of protection. The Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which includes the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, was among the groups that signed the letter.
“The Service’s proposed endangered listing is not supported by the best scientific and commercial data available,” the letter states. “The best available information does not indicate that the (bat) is in danger of extinction throughout a ‘significant portion of’ (its) range.”
An estimated 5,000 bats live across a wide area of Minnesota, a relatively small portion of the overall population. But national efforts to protect the species have raised the specter of a showdown between regulators and businesses dependent on cutting down trees.
Road and pipeline projects would be affected if the bat were listed as endangered, and an end to summer logging would cut off crucial supply lines for sawmills and paper and strand-board mills.
“We are pleased to see these important public agencies weighing in and hope the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service takes their comments seriously,” said Wayne Brandt, a spokesman for Minnesota Forest Industries. “This letter should really be a starting over point for the Service.”
The bat fungus first appeared in New York eight years ago. So far, no bats appear to have been killed by the fungus in Minnesota, though it has been found on four bats in two parts of the state — Forestville/Mystery Cave State Park in the southeast and Soudan Underground Mine State Park in the northeast.
Conservationists say it’s only a matter of time before the fungus starts affecting the northern long-eared bat population in the state.