The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed rule to reclassify the northern long-eared bat from “threatened” to “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. The change is a direct result of a lawsuit won by Defenders of Wildlife and other conservation groups in January 2020.
“This proposed endangered listing recognizes that human activities, combined with the plague of white-nose syndrome, are pushing the species to the brink,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. “While scientists race the clock to save bats from white-nose syndrome, the Service must act immediately to protect the surviving population from human-caused threats before time runs out.”
The northern long-eared bat is one of twelve cave-hibernating bat species that have been decimated by a fungal disease called white-nose syndrome. Since the disease’s discovery in upstate New York in 2006, it has spread like wildfire across the northern long-eared bat’s range in 37 U.S. states and 8 Canadian provinces. The once-common species has experienced 99% population declines as a result.
The proposed rule follows a victory in a lawsuit brought by Defenders of Wildlife and its conservation allies, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. Following a 2010 petition, the Service proposed to list the bat as endangered in 2013. In 2015, the agency listed it as threatened instead, simultaneously issuing a rule to allow habitat-destroying activities to continue unabated, because the Service argued that the species was primarily threatened by disease. As a result, the northern long-eared bat had no legal protections from the cumulative impacts of human-caused threats.
In January 2020, the court sided with the conservation groups and rejected the agency’s 2015 threatened listing. The judge found that the Service failed to consider the cumulative effects of human activities or explain why the catastrophic declines in the species did not merit greater protection. In March 2021, the court ordered the Service to reach a final decision on endangered status by December 2022.
A final rule listing the species as endangered will ensure the northern long-eared bat receives the full protections of the ESA. The Service has opened a 60-day comment period running through May 23, 2022.