On March 23, 2022, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) published a proposed rule to upgrade the status of the northern long-eared bat from federally threatened to federally endangered. This will place the northern long-eared bat on a par with its cousin, the Indiana bat, which has been listed as endangered since 1967. The reason for the proposed reclassification is the impact of white-nose syndrome (WNS), a fungal disease affecting bats. WNS has devastated populations of both these listed bat species since first being discovered in North America in 2006.
The upgraded listing, if finalized, would void the current 4(d) rule provisions for the northern long-eared bat. The current 4(d) rule allows certain activities, such as removal from human structures, or tree clearing within certain areas and limits from known habitats, to be conducted without constituting an illegal “take” of northern long-eared bats. USFWS may develop 4(d) provisions for federally listed threatened species, but 4(d) rule provisions are not allowed for listed endangered species.
Ranges and habitat requirements are similar for both Indiana and northern long-eared bats. Therefore, the impact of the new listing on common development projects will likely be minimal, since the more stringent requirements for the Indiana bat typically prevail currently. Both species hibernate in colonies in caves or cave-like structures during the winter and emerge in early spring to forage and reproduce in wooded areas, where they roost in trees that provide cracks , crevices, hollows or shaggy bark. Restricting tree clearing to the winter months (October through March) while these species are in hibernation is a common practice used to mitigate potential impacts to these species from development projects.
USFWS will accept comments on the proposed reclassification through May 23, 2022.