The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced they have extended the listing deadline for the Northern Long-Eared Bat (NLEB) for six months and re-opened the comment period for 60 days. The FWS said they did so intending to provide “additional time to resolve questions received during the public comment period regarding the species’ population and white-nose syndrome, a disease that has killed millions of bats and poses the greatest threat to this species.” The listing notice made clear that the NLEB historically has been able to use a variety of habitats, including managed forests and man-made structures, and that White Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease first detected in New York in 2006, is the chief factor in the species decline. In addition to the listing notice, the FWS issued “voluntary guidance” on habitat conservation, which is chock-full of vague wording and ambiguous direction that seems to suggest that nearly all forest management activities would need to be suspended within five miles of known bat colonies. The FWS issued a “Frequently Asked Questions” sheet along with the notice extending the deadline, which reassuringly (?) says “it is not likely that all timber harvests would be prevented during the bat’s breeding season” (emphasis added). The FAQ says that “Sustainable forest management can provide habitat for northern long-eared bats…The conservation measures identified in the guidance will not become blanket requirements if the northern long-eared bat is listed as endangered. Instead, the conservation measures we presented provide a list of possible conservation options that may be used, depending on site specific conditions, to minimize impacts to the bat and its habitat.”
FFRC will file comments on the proposed listing during the reopened comment period. Based on the fact that the bat had prospered on both public and private forests under a wide variety of management conditions prior to the arrival of WNS, and the fact that where WNS has yet to spread, the bat remains an abundant, commonly encountered species, it seems logical for FWS to focus their efforts on finding a way to stop the spread of WNS, not to adopt an unworkable set of management restrictions for forest management.