A court has ordered the federal government to decide whether the northern long-eared bat should be listed as an endangered species by the end of next year. Because of the deadly fungal disease, white-nose syndrome, the bat’s numbers have gotten dangerously low.
Though it’s a state endangered species in Indiana, it’s only listed as “threatened” at the federal level. Ryan Shannon is a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity — which has been urging the federal government to list the bat as endangered for about two decades.
He said because the bat is only listed as threatened, there are situations where the bat or its habitat can be destroyed to make way for things like timber harvests or new development.
“Impacts that once might have been small can now have species-level repercussions. The loss of just a couple of bats here and there really does add up," Shannon said.
Last year, a federal court called the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s threatened listing “arbitrary and capricious” and said it should be reevaluated. The agency wanted up to four years to do that — but that request was denied on Monday.
“White nose syndrome has already spread throughout the entirety of its range within six years of listing and so it really needs protections now," Shannon said.
In an email statement, the Hoosier Environmental Council said it appreciates the court's ruling.
"Since 2001, 85 of Indiana's 92 counties lost forest acreage, reducing woodland habitat for this bat," the statement said. "Like all of Indiana's native bats, the northern long-eared bat population consumes huge numbers of insects, including ones who are agricultural pests. Endangered status for this bat is long overdue."
Shannon said hundreds of species are on a backlog waiting to be federally listed — including another state endangered bat, the tri-colored bat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has previously stated that, for more than two decades, the number and cost of these listing decisions has exceeded the agency’s budget for them.
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Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.