(by Steve Kallesser, vice chair)

The US Fish & Wildlife Service has announced that it will protect the northern long-eared bat (NLEB) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to the impact of white-nose syndrome.  This “threatened” listing is accompanied by an interim 4(d) rule that exempts incidental take of NLEB in certain instances, so long as certain conservation measures are followed.  As many of our members are aware, the original draft proposal from USFWS was to list NLEB as “endangered.” The original proposal listed considerable information that we strongly believed was misdirected at sustainable forest management as being a negative impact on NLEB.

Today’s announcement and the revised attitude on sustainable forest management is best read in the opening sentence in the section on Forest Management in the final rule (page 196): “Continued forest management and silviculture is vital to the conservation and recovery of the northern long-eared bat.”  In February 2014, Allegheny SAF (led by the NJ Division) decided to make engagement with USFWS a serious volunteer priority, partnering with New York SAF and New England SAF.  We believe that our engagement — promoting the benefits of sustainable forest management to NLEB and myriad other species dependent on forest cover — strongly benefitted the quality of the final rule.  Urban and community forestry interests were also supported by SAF, and are clearly considered in the interim 4(d) rule.

A large number of state fish and wildlife agencies and state forestry agencies submitted comments regarding population estimates for NLEB that supported a “threatened” designation.  This, combined with comments from SAF and others suggesting science-based conservation measures hopefully provided USFWS the basis for publishing the interim 4(d) rule.

What does this all mean for NLEB?  It is still in very serious trouble.  All foresters and land managers should read the final rule — including the interim 4(d) rule — as soon as possible.  These conservation measures focus federal resources on critical areas where NLEB is known to exist.  It is imperative that foresters, forest landowners, and others take these immediate steps to minimize or eliminate the risk of killing remnant NLEB populations.

What does this all mean for rural foresters? All foresters and land managers should read the interim 4(d) rule as soon as possible.  The listing becomes effective on May 4, 2015, meaning that all Forest Stewardship Plans and all Woodland Management Plans that address wetlands, open waters, and jurisdictional buffers must include considerations for NLEB as a threatened species.  By incorporating conservation measures provided within the 4(d) rule, foresters can minimize, if not eliminate, possibility of harm to remaining NLEB.

What does this all mean for urban and community foresters?  Cutting of trees to protect human life and property is covered under the interim 4(d) rule.  Likely, this means no change to current operations, but if you can choose to take down low-priority hazard trees outside of June-July, that is encouraged.

Where are NLEB currently located?  There are 7 or 8 known, occupied hibernacula in the state, all of which are in north Jersey.  Foresters in north Jersey who have been working under Indiana bat considerations likely know these locations.  There are also known, occupied maternal roost trees in Passaic, Morris, and Ocean counties.

In English, what is a 4(d) rule? Essentially, it is an exemption for incidental (accidental) take of NLEB under certain circumstances.  Most of this is common sense (e.g. restricting tree cutting within 1/4 mile of known, occupied hibernacula; and not cutting down known, occupied maternal roost trees during the pup season of June through July).  Some of it could be argued against (restricting regeneration harvests within 1/4 mile of known, occupied roost trees during the pup season of June through July), however, given the imperiled status of NLEB we think that such a conservative stance is warranted.

The NJ Division of the Allegheny SAF — in accordance with SAF’s policy statements on Biodiversity and on Protecting Endangered Species Habitat on Private Land — supports the protection of NLEB in accordance with USFWS’ rule.  We will continue to engage USFWS to determine optimal forest habitat conditions for NLEB, and we seek to facilitate the transfer of that knowledge to our members and private forest landowners in New Jersey and beyond.

Sustainable forest management being beneficial to bats rests on three arguments. (1) Sustainable forest management perpetuates forests, and is infinitely more desirable than land use change away from forest cover. (2) Retention of snags and other high-wildlife-value trees is core to the practice of modern forestry — in fact engrained in the culture of forestry throughout the mid-Atlantic and northeast, if not nationwide. (3) Practicing sustainable forest management leads to a mosaic of habitats including various roosting and foraging habitats for NLEB.

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(The Society of American Foresters, and its local units, is the professional society — not an industry group — for foresters in America.)