Energy & Environment

Feds propose listing northern long-eared bat as endangered after lawsuit

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday issued a proposed rule that would upgrade the northern long-eared bat’s status from “threatened” to “endangered” after a coalition of wildlife groups successfully sued for the change.

The bat, which has a range across most of the eastern U.S. and parts of southern Canada, has been devastated by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease first observed in New York populations in 2006. Sixteen years later, the disease has caused a 99 percent population decline.

In 2015, the service listed the bat as “threatened” rather than endangered, prompting a lawsuit from a coalition of conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Coal River Mountain Watch and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

The service had argued the bat did not rise to the level of endangered status because of the role of the disease, rather than human activity, in population loss.

In January 2020, Judge Emmet Sullivan of the District Court for the District of Columbia, an appointee of former President Clinton, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying the service’s decision did not properly account for human activity or explain why such drastic population loss did not merit protections.

At the beginning of March, Sullivan ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to make a decision on the bat’s status by December, rather than the three to four years the service had asked for.

“This proposed endangered listing recognizes that human activities, combined with the plague of white-nose syndrome, are pushing the species to the brink,” Jane Davenport, a senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement. “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 service’s proposed rule for endangered status will remain open for comment through May 23.

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