In Bow to Industry Over Science, Feds Backpedal on Protecting Imperiled Bat

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Mollie Matteson, (802) 318-1487 or mmatteson@biologicaldiversity.org

In Bow to Industry Over Science, Feds Backpedal on Protecting Imperiled Bat

Northern Long-eared Bat Protected as Threatened Rather Than Endangered

WASHINGTON - Despite a greater than 90 percent drop in northern long-eared bat numbers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today reversed course and protected the bat as threatened rather than endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Under intense pressure from industry and conservative politicians opposed to the bat’s protection, the Service also issued a special rule specifically allowing many activities harmful to the bat, including logging, oil and gas drilling and mining.

“These bats are losing more ground every day to a devastating disease, and instead of providing strong protection for the survivors, the Fish and Wildlife Service has given the green light to logging, oil and gas drilling, mining and other habitat-wrecking industries,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Weakening protections for the northern long-eared bat when it’s just barely surviving white-nose syndrome is like sucker-punching a cancer patient. We're definitely going to fight this highly political decision — one that all but ignores the science."

The northern long-eared bat, which is distinguished by its long ears and preference for dense, old forests, has been particularly hard hit by the fungal disease known as white-nose syndrome, which has killed millions of bats in 25 eastern states and five Canadian provinces. The bat has declined by 99 percent in the Northeast and is rapidly disappearing from the Midwest and southern Appalachians. Only the western and far northern reaches of its range, mostly in Canada, are now free of the deadly fungal illness, but the bat faces other threats in these areas, such as logging and other habitat-destroying activities.

Today’s decision is a significant step backward for the bat’s conservation. In 2013 the Service recommended the northern long-eared bat be protected as endangered. But the timber, oil and gas, mining and wind-energy industries, among others, hotly opposed the bat’s listing because of fears the bat’s protection would cut into short-term profits. Conservative politicians from Pennsylvania to South Dakota have spoken out against listing the species, and some members of Congress have gone so far as to introduce legislation that would block the Service from protecting the bat.

In response the Service downgraded the bat's protection to threatened, which allowed the agency to issue the special rule, exempting habitat-destroying activities. In areas outside the current white-nose syndrome zone, the rule allows virtually all habitat-destroying activities to go forward, including clearcutting, fracking and construction of pipelines. Even within areas already affected by the disease, the rule allows logging and other activities that might harm northern long-eared bats as long as they are not conducted in early summer when baby bats are first born, or occur more than a quarter-mile from known roosts and hibernation sites.

In January more than 80 bat scientists sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of the Interior calling for the immediate protection of the northern long-eared bat as endangered. The scientists cited voluminous scientific data showing that the northern long-eared bat is in imminent danger of extinction, and made clear that the survival of the species depends on safeguarding remnant populations from all other sources of harm.

“These bats provide a huge service by helping to keep insect populations in check,” said Matteson. “It’s extremely shortsighted to prioritize the quick profits of corporations over the survival of a species that for millions of years has helped keep nature in balance.”

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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