Northern Long-Eared Bats
Northern Long-Eared Bats die in large numbers every winter - in some caves, their mortality rate is 99% - due to a fungal disease known as White Nose Syndrome. But rather than focusing on disease prevention and treatment, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to make ill-conceived changes to the bats' summertime habitat - including Minnesota's forests - as part of a proposal to list the Northern Long-Eared Bat as an endangered species.
Such action would do nothing to address what decimates these bats, but it would decimate a forest products industry that provides excellent products and employment across America, including 30,000 jobs in Minnesota.
That's why the focus should be on the disease, not the trees.
The proposed solution overlooks the real cause
While the Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that White Nose Syndrome, for which there is yet no cure, is the cause of the bats' diminishing population, the FWS wants to create ways to enhance the population in non-hibernating months.
And since Northern Long-Eared Bats like to roost underneath bark or in crevices of both live and dead trees during the summer, the Fish and Wildlife Service's preliminary guidance to federal agencies identifies regulation of forest practices as a way to accomplish this.
The focus should be on the disease, not the trees.
Among its recommendations are to prohibit summertime forest management activities within a 5-mile radius of "hibernacula" (the caves in which bats hibernate) and within a 1.5 miles radius of actual potential roost trees that are 3" in diameter or larger. If you drew 1.5 mile radius circles around Minnesota trees larger then 3" in diameter, you'd find very little of the state left outside of those circles.
If these recommendations are imposed, Minnesota timber harvesting activities could only occur during the winter while bats are hibernating, effectively shutting down the forest products industry.
Such drastic steps are not necessary
In Minnesota, less than 1 percent of forestland is harvested each year, so bat habitat will always remain plentiful, In fact, our state's effective forest management techniques actually provide new habitat opportunities for these bats.
There's no question bats are important to our ecosystem. They disperse seeds and consume damaging agricultural pests, helping keep our crops healthy. A single bat can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour. We need bats.
The solution is not to handcuff the forest products and other industries; it's to find a cure for White Nose Syndrome. Recently, Bat Conservation International and the Tennessee Chapter of The Nature Conservancy were the latest to take up this challenge, awarding $97,000 in grants for research into the disease. The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to quickly explore and help fund additional efforts to eliminate White Nose Syndrome.
Because right now, no matter what happens in the summer, up to 99% of Northern Long-Eared Bat populations will continue to succumb to White Nose Syndrome in the winter.
Disease has killed millions of bats
More than 5.5 million bats have died during the past 8 years in 25 states and 5 Canadian provinces. This isn't due to farming, wind turbines, forest management or other reasons, but to White Nose Syndrome, This fungal disease, which thrives in the low temperatures and high humidity common in caves where bats hibernate, has killed 99% of bat populations in parts of the Northeast, according to Fish and Wildlife Service Data.