Protecting bats could curtail logging and construction in Carlton County
A little creature not quite 4 inches long virtually could disable much of summer construction and logging activity in Carlton County.
In a recent report to the Carlton County Board committee of the whole, Land Commissioner Greg Bernu said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the northern long-eared bat as endangered under the
Endangered Species Act, which designates animals and plants that are in danger of becoming extinct.
He said the bat is common in states east of Montana, all the way to the eastern seaboard, and its population has experienced a 90 percent drop-off rate in recent years due to its vulnerability to white-nose syndrome. Numbers in the northeast region of the United States, where the impact of white-nose syndrome first was measured in 2006, have declined by 99 percent.
Bernu said white-nose syndrome has since spread rapidly from the Northeast to the Midwest and Southeast, and was discovered most recently in Minnesota in the Tower-Soudan underground mine, where the bats commonly winter.
Bernu said other bat hibernation sites also have been found in the Duluth area, a cave in southern Minnesota and in the Sandstone Highway Department. Thus far, however, no significant mortality has been noted in the bat population as a result of the syndrome, he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency has distributed information on the bat’s decline and prospective measures that would be taken, if it is listed as endangered, to the Department of Natural Resources and other related agencies, and a final decision will be made by October.
Bernu said if the Fish and Wildlife Service decides to move forward with the listing, it could have a significant impact locally.
“It would basically be a case of ‘do nothing’ during the months of June, July and August, when the bats are in their summer habitat (they roost in tall trees, snags, buildings and rock shelters and raise their nursery colonies under bark, shingles and in buildings), with extra precautions encouraged during May and September.”
He explained that would mean permits would be needed to remove trees or buildings or perform road or bridge work or other types of construction during those times, and other activities might be prohibited entirely.
The website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that highway and commercial development, surface mining and wind-facility construction permanently remove the habitat of the bats. As well, timber harvest and forest management can remove or alter (improving or degrading) summer roosting and foraging habitat.
“This would directly impact at least 34 loggers we work with, the paper mill and our county crews as well,” Bernu said.
Commissioner Dick Brenner questioned just how valuable the bats are, if such extreme measures stand to be implemented to protect them.
Bernu said bats are voracious insect eaters and important pollinators, and he added they are a critical link in the natural food chain. He added, however, that he feels the Fish and Wildlife Service may have taken a knee-jerk reaction to the situation by deciding to adapt the same protection model used with the Indiana bat and gray bat, species he said are limited to a far smaller area than our long-eared bat, making some measures inapplicable to this particular situation.