Pennsylvania is seeking federal permission to kill endangered bats in order to log 3.9 million acres of state lands, increasing the risk of losing two species already devastated by an unchecked fungal disease. Several Pennsylvania and national conservation groups critiqued the permit proposal in a letter sent today to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This is the final day of the Service’s initial public comment period on the plan.
“When a wildlife species has declined 99 percent, the first priority for state conservation agencies should be doing whatever it takes to save the animal, not looking for permission to kill even more,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity who specializes in bats.
Earlier this year the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources approached the Fish and Wildlife Service about obtaining an “incidental take permit” for the federally protected Indiana bat as well as the northern long-eared bat. The permit would apply to forestry activities on state lands overseen by the two agencies, including game lands and state forests.
In October the Fish and Wildlife Service recommended that the northern long-eared bat be added to the federal endangered species list, due primarily to the catastrophic losses it has experienced from the fungal disease called white-nose syndrome. The bats have declined by 99 percent in Pennsylvania and throughout much of eastern North America. The Indiana bat has declined by about 76 percent in Pennsylvania since the arrival of white-nose syndrome there in 2008. A scientific paper published earlier this year by federal biologists projected that across its entire range the Indiana bat would decline to just 14 percent of its pre-white-nose syndrome population by 2022.
In summer months both the northern long-eared bat and the Indiana bat are dependent on the availability of large, older trees and snags and extensive blocks of forested habitat for roosting and foraging. Heavy logging and road-building can fragment and destroy vital habitat for these species.
Under the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, an “incidental take” permit must be accompanied by a habitat conservation plan designed to mitigate species losses. The state is seeking a take permit period of 30 years. Conservationists say all the evidence suggests that without a greater effort to address threats such as white-nose syndrome and habitat loss, both bat species could very well become extinct over that period.
“Pennsylvania is asking for clearance to harm some of the most imperiled wildlife in the country in exchange for doing other things to help these endangered species,” said David Sublette, wilderness chair for the Pennsylvania Sierra Club, a co-signatory to the comment letter. “Meanwhile, our state has demonstrated that it will let politics rule the day and let anti-environmental interests stop necessary conservation measures.” More....