Designating a species as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is normally done when an animal’s population is declining due to illegal land clearing, poaching, or other significant disturbances to its habitat. Strong protective measures should be taken under these circumstances to maintain a flourishing ecosystem and businesses are more amenable to increased regulations when certain operations or practices are partly responsible for the problem. However, the Northern Long-Eared (NLE) bat is not declining in numbers or “threatened” due to a business or industry. Its numbers are declining because of a fungus that is not caused by or related to a specific industry, yet certain industries will be severely affected.
Today, after years of deliberation and despite widespread concerns from Ohio farmers, land developers, home builders, energy utilities, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, and others, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a rule declaring the NLE bat a “threatened” species. As a result, future development may now be prohibited on any land that is the NLE bat’s habitat and breeding grounds, despite the fact that prohibiting development will not improve survival of the NLE bat. The true environmental stressor to the NLE bat, the fungus, will be unaffected by these undue restrictions as a result of naming the bat a “threatened” species.
The NLE bat will receive the “threatened” designation beginning May 4, 2015. While some industry activities may be exempt from the threatened prohibitions and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rule is supposed to ensure “private landowners and citizens are not unduly burdened by regulations that do not further the conservation of the species”, the rule could potentially adversely impact a broad range of industries and economic activities.
Since the root cause of the declining population of NLE bats is a fungus, the futility of naming the bat as a “threatened” species and the real consequences of doing so for Ohio businesses warrant action. Though the likelihood of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service altering today’s decision is not great, the agency is nonetheless accepting comments. The deadline for comments is July 1, 2015. More information on how to file comments on this rule can be found here.