September 18, 2014

Concerns Over Potential Northern Long-Eared Bat Listing Sparks Sportsmen Involvement

The Northern Long-Eared Bat (NLEB), which sportsmen and women throughout many areas of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Midwest U.S. share the woods with, may prove a challenge for natural resource managers in the very near future.

The NLEB is affected by a fungal disease called White Nose Syndrome that has had dramatic impacts on northeastern NLEB populations since 2006, prompting a petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) in 2010 from the Center for Biological Diversity requesting that the bat be listed as threatened or endangered. The Service then announced in October 2013 that the endangered species listing is warranted, and opened a public comment period to acquire more input on the proposed NLEB listing.

Concurrent with the announcement of this proposal, the Service released an Interim Conference and Planning Guidance (ICPG) document that highlights a variety of voluntary conservation measures and bat habitat survey techniques that natural resource managers can undertake while a final listing decision is pending. Both sportsmen’s groups and state natural resource departments have taken notice of the potentially restrictive consequences of the proposed conservation measures in the event they become non-voluntary if a listing is made.

Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) signed on to the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP) letter expressing concerns to the Service. AWCP states that if WNS is the primary threat to NLEB populations, and WNS is contracted primarily in winter hibernacula, “then severe limitations to forest management in summer habitats does not adequately address the primary threat to the species.” In addition, CSF partner, the Ruffed Grouse Society submitted a separate letter. The likely restrictions to forest management that would be set if the NLEB is listed, based on the ICPG, would negatively impact other wildlife species, including economically important game species like white-tailed deer, ruffed grouse, woodcock, and turkey.

The potential negative impacts of reduced forest management activities would extend to currently listed endangered species as well. These include the Kirtland’s warbler, Karner Blue butterfly, and Indiana bat populations which rely on disturbed forest environments and benefit from various forest treatments that create forest edge habitat, forest openings, and young tree/shrub growth.

Through a joint letter to the Service, the respective leaders of the departments of natural resources for Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have recognized the threat of a listing for NLEB to their professional wildlife management strategy and on the forest products industry. Additionally, these state agencies claim that the Service has not been inclusive enough during the ICPG development process and that more time is needed for adequate data to be gathered and for sufficient conservation partner coordination. Ultimately, these state conservation leaders are asking for flexibility when it comes to conserving the NLEB and the habitat upon which it relies.

Moving forward, the NLEB will require high levels of coordinated and joint action by federal and state agencies, local governments, industry, landowners, and conservation partners if populations are to be conserved without adversely inhibiting professional forest management techniques that support a wide array of wildlife populations enjoyed by sportsmen and non-sportsmen alike.

The current U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deadline for final decision on the NLEB listing is April 2, 2015.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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