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Environment and Outdoors

Federal Rules to Protect Bats Set to Go Into Effect

Courtesy USDA
A northern long-eared bat.

BOSTON, Mass. - Federal rules designed to protect a species of bat found across much of the United States, including Maine, are set to go into effect next month.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the rule is designed to protect the northern long-eared bat while minimizing regulatory requirements for landowners, land managers, government agencies and others within the specie's range.  

Last April, the agency listed the northern long-eared bat as threatened under the Endangered Species Act after a fungus called white-nose syndrome decimated bat populations.  The fungus has been found in Maine and 29 other states. FWS says the disease continues to spread westward across the U.S. and is wreaking havoc on cave-dwelling bats.  

Assistant Regional Director Paul Pffeifer says the special rule focuses on white-nose syndrome and is designed to protect bats during "essential life stages - those times when it's in the hibernaculum, hibernating and those times when it's around known roost trees. So this is a bat that spends its winters in caves, hibernating collectively, and then, in the summer, the females go out and set up maternity colonies around roost trees."

The rule establishes buffers near the caves and roost trees where Endangered Species Act prohibitions, such as tree clearing, apply.  Pffeifer says exceptions will be considered, and the prohibitions would not apply in areas where white-nose syndrome is not found.

Pfeiffer says other threats to these bats pale in comparison to white-nose syndrome, and are not significant enough to regulate. "So we're excepting those, essentially, from the prohibitions of the Endangered Species Act.  So things related to forest clearing or wind - for example, wind turbine operation - we're saying if they happen to incidentally take a northern long-eared bat, it's not going to be a violation of the Endangered Species Act.  

The final rule takes effect Feb. 16.