U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finalizes special rule for northern long-eared bat

Recently, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service finalized a rule under authority of Section 4(d) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that provides measures the agency deems necessary and advisable to provide for conservation of the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis). The bat was federally listed as a threatened species in April 2015 at which time the Service also published an interim 4(d) rule. The final version of the 4(d) rule appears in the January 14, 2016 issue of the Federal Register (81 FR 1900 – 1922). It becomes effective on February 16, 2016.

The final 4(d) rule prohibits purposeful “take” (e.g., harm) of northern long-eared bats throughout the species’ range. It also prohibits unauthorized take resulting from actions incidental to otherwise lawful activities, such as forest management, within the region affected by white-nose syndrome, the fungal disease that the Service views as the primary factor affecting the bat.

The rule prohibits activities that would result in incidental take of northern long-eared bats in known hibernacula including alterations to a known hibernaculum’s entrance or interior environment if it impairs an essential behavioral pattern such as sheltering northern long-eared bats.

The rule also prohibits tree-removal activities that result in incidental take of northern long-eared bats when those activities (i) occur within 0.25 mile of a known hibernaculum; or (ii) cut or destroy known occupied maternity roost trees, or any other trees within a 150-foot radius from the maternity roost tree, during the pup season (June 1 through July 31). 

The final rule states that forest management “is not usually expected to result in a permanent loss of suitable roosting or foraging habitat for northern long-eared bats. On the contrary, forest management is expected to maintain a forest over the long term for the species. However, localized temporary reductions in suitable roosting and/or foraging habitat can occur from various forest practices (e.g., clearcuts).” 

The Service also recognizes that while “bats can flee during tree removal, removal of occupied roosts (during spring through fall) may result in direct injury or mortality to some percentage of northern long-eared bats. This percentage would be expected to be greater if flightless pups or inexperienced flying juveniles were also present.”

In the final rule, the Service states that the ESA “does not require a private landowner to survey his or her property to determine whether endangered or threatened wildlife and plants occupy their land.” But, they “encourage landowners to voluntarily seek additional information to conserve natural resources in their land use/land management actions; however, [they] will not require surveys to locate northern long-eared bats and maternity roost trees on private property.”

Location information for hibernacula and maternity roost trees is generally kept in state Natural Heritage Inventory databases and data availability varies state-by-state. The Service’s website for the northern long-eared bat (http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/mammals/nleb/index.html) provides links to state online Natural Heritage Programs and to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Field Offices.