A U.S. District Court judge in Washington, D.C., has ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider a 2015 decision to classify a bat species as threatened rather than endangered, using the best available science. The forest-dwelling bat species has experienced massive die-offs from the fungal disease white-nose syndrome.
While the court ordered the USFWS to take another look at its “arbitrary and capricious” decision to not grant endangered species protection to the northern long-eared bat, it left the bat’s current status as a threatened species intact until the review is completed.
The once-common northern long-eared bat has experienced population declines of up to 99 percent in its former core range — the Mid-Atlantic/New England region. Scientists believe its precipitous decline may be due to the fact it enters hibernation caves earlier, and leaves them later, than most other bat species. The northern long-eared bat also spends its hibernation time in the darkest, coldest parts of caves, making it highly vulnerable to white-nose syndrome.
While listed as a threatened species, the USFWS followed a rule that allowed habitat-destroying activities to take place virtually unchecked in the vicinity of northern long-eared bat populations, reasoning that white-nose syndrome, not habitat loss, was the primary cause for the mammal’s decline.
The suit addressed in the ruling was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, Coal River Mountain Watch and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.
If the updated review of the bat’s status under the Endangered Species Act produces an endangered listing, it could make the issuance of permits for mining and infrastructure development in areas within the bat’s current range more difficult to obtain.
Both the northern long-eared bat and the endangered Indiana bat are known to live on Coal River Mountain, said Vernon Haltom of the West Virginia-based Coal River Mountain Watch.
“While both species benefit their human neighbors by keeping disease-carrying mosquitoes in check, mountaintop removal continues to destroy their homes, practically unchecked,” Haltom said. “We hope this ruling will be a step toward protecting bats from mountaintop removal, as well as protecting human communities’ health from this deadly practice.”
“With this ruling, the Fish and Wildlife Service must acknowledge that habitat loss, such as that brought on by mountaintop removal coal mining, is a major threat to this species,” said Vivian Stockman, director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Council, headquartered in Huntington.