Northern Long-Eared Bat Listed under Endangered Species Act:
What Woodland Owners in Indiana Need to Know
by Andy King
On May 4, 2015, the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis; NLEB) was officially listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). This species has experienced severe population declines in areas impacted by the fungal disease white-nose syndrome (WNS). Below are some key points regarding this newly protected species and how it may (or may not) affect your forest management practices.
SUMMARY: If you are a private woodland owner in Indiana, the recent federal listing of the NLEB is not likely to affect your forest management activities unless you or others have documented this species roosting or hibernating on or within 0.25 miles of your property.
• The NLEB is closely related to the federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), and both species occur throughout the State of Indiana. Similar to the Indiana bat, the NLEB hibernates in caves and mines during the winter and roosts in trees (within cavities, under loose bark and in crevices) during the spring, summer and fall. In addition, NLEBs may occasionally roost in man-made structures such as barns, houses, bridges and bat houses.
• In recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has been funding researchers, who are exploring effective and practical means to target and control the specific fungus (Pseudogymnoascus destructans; Pd) that causes WNS, but no broad-scale treatments have been developed to date. WNS was first observed on hibernating bats in Indiana in 2011 and now occurs throughout the state and continues to spread westward.
• Prior to WNS, the NLEB was one of the most common bat species within forest and woodland habitats in Indiana. Although NLEBs were still being captured in fairly high numbers in some areas of Indiana in 2014, no NLEBs (or other Myotis species) were captured in other areas where they had been routinely captured in pre-WNS surveys. Also effective May 4, 2015, the FWS promulgated an interim special rule, known as a “4(d) rule,” that specifically applies to the NLEB. This rule is an option for federally “threatened” species under the ESA and provides flexibility to landowners, land managers, government agencies and others as they conduct activities in NLEB habitat. The interim NLEB 4(d) rule exempts non-intentional “take” (i.e., killing, injury and harassment) of NLEBs for some forest management-related activities that would otherwise be prohibited under the ESA.
• The interim NLEB 4(d) rule established a “WNS Buffer Zone” including and extending 150 miles beyond the border of counties that have documented the presence of WNS/Pd. The entire State of Indiana and surrounding states (IL, KY, OH and MI) fall within the WNS Buffer Zone, and thus purposeful or incidental/unintended take of NLEBs is prohibited in Indiana unless it is from an activity specifically excepted within the 4(d) rule.
• Under the interim 4(d) rule, take of NLEBs incidental to certain activities conducted in accordance with the following habitat conservation measures, as applicable, will not be prohibited (i.e., will be excepted from the prohibitions). For such take to be excepted, the activity must:
– Occur more than 0.25 mile (0.4 kilometer) from a known, occupied hibernaculum;
– Avoid cutting or destroying known, occupied roost trees during the pup season (June 1–July 31); and
– Avoid clearcuts (and similar harvest methods, e.g., seed tree, shelterwood, and coppice) within 0.25 mile (0.4 kilometer) of known, occupied roost trees during the pup season (June 1–July 31).
Note that activities that may cause take of northern long-eared bat that do not use these conservation measures may still be done, but only after consultation with the Service. This means that, while the resulting take from such activities is not excepted by this interim rule, the take may be authorized through other means provided in the Act (section 7 consultation or an incidental take permit).
• At this time in Indiana, nearly all of the known occupied roost trees for NLEBs are on federal and state-owned forest lands. Known occupied hibernacula for NLEBs occur on public and private lands in the following counties: Crawford, Greene, Harrison, Jefferson, Lawrence, Martin, Monroe, Owen, Washington and Vermillion. Private landowners are not required to survey for NLEB.
• The FWS is accepting comments on the interim 4(d) rule through July 1, 2015 (instructions for submitting comments are available at the website at end of this article). The FWS plans to finalize the 4(d) rule by the end of the calendar year 2015.
• CAUTION: The NLEB and Indiana bat may both occur in forest and woodland habitat throughout the State of Indiana and all federal protections and take prohibitions pertaining to Indiana bats and their habitat still apply. Therefore, the FWS’ Bloomington Field Office (BFO) advises private woodland owners in Indiana to continue to follow the BFO’s forest management guidelines outlined in a previous article of The Woodland Steward [Spring Issue, 21(1):11-13][Available online.
To receive a copy of the BFO Forest Management Guidelines or to discuss questions you may have regarding northern long-eared bats (or Indiana bats), forest management practices or ESA compliance issues in Indiana, please email Andy King (email@example.com) or call the Bloomington Field Office at 812-334-4261.
Andy King is an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Bloomington Field Office.
Additional information regarding the NLEB, the interim 4(d) rule and WNS (respectively)