By Jeremy Caggiano, Science & Technology Chairman

shagbark hickory(Photo:  Exfoliating bark of shagbark hickories offer habitat to bats. Photo by Charlie Newlon CF)

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently held three public information webcasts which provided additional information regarding their application to list Northern Long-Eared Bat (NLEB) as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). USFWS originally proposed to list NLEB in autumn of 2013 at which time they offered a 90 day public comment period. The period was later extended six months. With the comment period now ended, USFWS has expressed that they are prepared to make a final determination by April 2, 2015.

NLEB hibernates in caves and abandoned mine shafts. According to USFWS, there are eight known hibernacula in New Jersey, all of which are found in the northern portion of the state. Around April, NLEB migrates to their summer habitat during which time they select a roost location. Roosts may be observed singly or in colonies underneath the exfoliating bark and crevices of live and dead standing trees as well as in man-made structures.

Within the webcast USFWS addresses factors which have led to the decline of NLEB populations. The agency states that they wouldn’t have considered listing NLEB if it wasn’t for White-nose Syndrome (WNS). WNS is a devastating fungal disease which effects NLEB while overwintering. The disease has been attributed to dramatic mortality. USFWS observed a 99 percent population loss in certain caves. According USFWS, WNS was not “Confirmed” or “Suspected” in NJ hibernacula in 2014.

The ESA restricts the take of endangered and threatened animal species. Section 10a of the act enables USFWS to issue permits that allow take that is incidental to, and not the purpose of, carrying out an otherwise lawful activity. This is called “Incidental Take.” Before permits are issued, applicants must minimize and mitigate the impacts of the take and prove it will not appreciably reduce the survival and recovery of the wild population overall. Incidental Take was not specifically addressed in USFWS’s webcast. Hence, it remains unclear exactly how forest resource managers are expected to minimize risk to NLEB and how such mitigation will impact previously scheduled management activities. USFWS believes healthy forests are beneficial to NLEB and more specifically sustainable forest management practices will improve NLEB forest habitat. Furthermore they acknowledge additional research is needed with respect to forestry related activities.

If listed, NLEB will be regulated on all lands receiving federal funding. Examples include NJDEP public lands, family forests under a Forest Stewardship Plan, land owners having received Emergency Forest Restoration Program funds and more. Private lands subject to forestry and wetlands Best Management Practices would also be impacted.  USFWS and/or NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife may limit the timeframe during which resource managers may implement forest management activities, to exclude most of the growing season. Depending on the property and the landowner’s objectives, such treatments are often aimed at creating or enhancing habitat for species in NJ that are known to be declining in population. Other silvicultural benefits of treatments may include the diversification of forest age structure, the fostering of shade intolerant natural regeneration, and the treatment of exotic species. If NLEB is listed some of these objectives may be temporarily thwarted while others may be impossible to implement.