Thursday, February 11, 2016

Northern Long-eared Bat Ruling Goes into Effect

The final 4(d) rule goes into effect February, 16. More information is available here. The US Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) released the much-anticipated final 4(d) rule for the northern long-eared bat (NLEB) last month. The final rule has streamlined, changed, or even removed several provisions that were concerning to the broader forestry community. 

The positives:
  • The prohibition against cutting around known maternity roost trees during the pup season (June 1 - July 31) has been reduced from a 0.25 mile radius to a 150 ft. radius. 
  • The language about avoiding clearcuts and other similar harvest methods (e.g., seed tree, shelterwood, and coppice) around known roost trees has been removed. 
  • The provision stating that "the conversion of mature hardwood, or mixed, forest into intensively managed monoculture pine plantation stands, or non-forested landscape, is not exempted" has been removed. 
  • The final rule more clearly articulates how private landowners can meet due diligence requirements, and emphasizes that they are not required to conduct surveys on their lands if no data is available.
Thanks to hard work by FWS staff and information from Society of American Foresters, its members, and other forestry organizations, this final rule better reflects that white-nose syndrome is the overwhelming threat, highlights the potential benefits of forest management activities including prescribed fire, and seeks to implement more focused protections than previous iterations of the rule. 

Remaining concerns:
  • The prohibition against year-round harvesting for trees within a 0.25 mile radius of a "known, occupied hibernacula" has been changed to "known hibernacula." According to the FWS, this was an intentional change designed to protect any hibernacula where the NLEB has been observed at least once. The FWS did clarify that short-term sites are not considered hibernacula nor are sites that are no longer suitable as hibernacula. 
  • Although scientists are working hard on solutions, white-nose syndrome continues to spread and affect bat populations. If populations continue to decline, FWS may be forced to consider upgrading the listing to "endangered," which would void all 4(d) exemptions. Another comment period would precede any status change.

Implementation of the interim rule suffered from inconsistencies in communications and expectations across the various FWS offices. We are hopeful that coordination and consistency will be improved with the final rule, but with such a broad habitat range there are bound to be some hurdles. 

Society of American Foresters, Issues and Advocacy Now, February 2016.

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