Moose Lake Star Gazette - Serving Carlton and Pine Counties Since 1895

By Traci LeBrun
Moose Lake Star Gazette 

Future of long-eared bat could have massive economic impact

Listing of bat as endangered could stall local road projects, affect state's logging industry

 


The five-year highway improvement plan was presented to the Pine County Board of Commissioners on August 19 by County Engineer Mark LeBrun. One obstacle in road construction, stated LeBrun, may be the long-eared bat.

“Trees could possibly only be harvested in the winter, which could create a problem for road construction,” he stated.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the northern long-eared bat found in the north central United States to northeastern United States, was petitioned in 2010 by the Center for Biological Diversity to be placed on the threatened or endangered species list. In October of 2013, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a proposal to list the bat as endangered throughout its range. It is estimated that only 5,000 of the bats live in Minnesota and approximately 5.5 million in other states have been killed off from a disease called white-nose syndrome.

'It’s a plague'

Northern long-eared bats spend winter hibernating in caves and abandoned mines, and in the summer, they roost underneath bark or in cavities or crevices of both live and dead trees. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stated that white-nose syndrome creates a white fungus on the bat’s nose and reported the disease makes bats act strangely during winter hibernating months, flying out of hibernation into the cold, with bats found sick and dying in unprecedented numbers near caves and mines.

However, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife research collected as of June 2014, there have been no confirmed bat deaths due to the white-nose syndrome in Minnesota. But according to Rich Baker of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, close to 99 percent of long-eared bats have died from the disease in the east. “It’s a plague,” stated Baker. Other officials say it’s only a matter of time before it reaches Minnesota.

Bats eat half their weight in insects each night, according to Rick Toomey, director of the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning in Michigan, fighting major agricultural pests that afflict cotton and corn crops. “If they aren’t around to eat the insects, farmers will end up using more pesticides,” Toomey stated in a recent Star Tribune article. “Bats also play a critical role in pollinating many crops and other plants.”

“The loss of the bats is going to shift major things in the ecosystem,” he added.

Bats may cause stir in economy

Not only would Pine County and other road projects be affected, but so would a large portion of Minnesota’s economy — logging.

The debate concerning species protection over economic security and development will go on over the next several months among elected officials and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) experts. The protection of this species of bat will affect not only road and pipeline projects but could put an end to summer logging, which would cut off critical supply lines for sawmills, paper and strand-board mills.

According to a 2011 study by the Minnesota DNR, the state’s forest products manufacturing and related sectors directly contribute $9.7 billion in industry output and add a $3 billion value to the Minnesota economy, employing about 40,370 people with a $1.8 billion payroll.

Federal regulators have proposed that any tree over 3 inches in diameter must be inspected for a maternal colony of long-eared bats before being cut down between the dates of April 1 and September 30.

Georgia Parham, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a recent article in the Star Tribune, stated the instructions proposed by federal regulators on how to protect the bats by inspecting trees are not a rule but a guideline.

According to Timberjay.com, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal to list the long-eared bat came with interim guidelines that are supposed to provide protection for the bat until the agency can issue a final decision. The guidelines are merely advisory at this point, but could have the force of law assuming the bat is formally listed next year, according to the website.

“Given the number of trees removed annually throughout the state, the recommended surveys are impractical and unrealistic,” wrote DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr in a July 3 letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service and to the state’s congressional delegation.

Congressman Rick Nolan sent the following statement to the Aitkin Age, “Bats are critical for agriculture and ecosystem balance, and I am committed to finding a way of protecting this species without harming our northern Minnesota construction workers, logging industry and working families.”

Public hearings have been taking place in August and an online discussion board will be created by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service next week. A decision will be likely made in the spring whether or not the long-eared bat will be placed on the endangered species list.

 

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