Comments Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Listing Of The Northern Long-Eared Bat As A Threatened Species

I have closely followed and done what I can to address the outbreak of White Nose Syndrome (WNS) since its early discovery in bat hibernacula in Vermont and New York.  All of us as Vermonters are deeply affected by the devastating toll this disease has taken on bat populations, including the Northern Long-Eared bat (NLEB).  Bats are integral elements of our forest ecosystems and also generate billions of dollars of value each year for American agriculture.  That is why I have long worked for adequate funding for the federal agencies that are researching and working on ways to slow the spread of WNS.

There is little doubt that the NLEB qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act, and I welcome the Department’s decision to take this important step forward.  But it is important to keep in mind that the devastation of this species is not being caused by habitat destruction or other human activity, as is the case with most other protected species.  The abundance of NLEB in Vermont and across the Northeast before this disease struck tells us that sustainable forest management, as practiced in Vermont, is compatible with healthy bat populations.  This is similar to our national icon, the Bald Eagle, which was highly threatened with extinction due largely to DDT and other pesticides.  Once those toxins were properly regulated these magnificent birds recovered from the brink.  Our focus on stabilizing and recovering these bat populations similarly must focus on controlling WNS and on working with states and partner organizations to find and act on ways to reduce non-WNS threats to our surviving and still-unaffected populations, to aid in the overall recovery of this and other bat species.

On the Appropriations Committee I have long fought for increased federal support for WNS research, recovery, conservation and inventories through grants to state, university and conservation organizations, which has been critical to combat this disease.  Despite ongoing efforts to minimize the distressing effects of this disease and to slow its spread, a cure has yet to be found.  I hope that the Department will continue to dedicate sufficient resources to better understand and fight this disease while also supporting landowners interested in implementing conservation measures to support surviving and still-unaffected populations.

I am pleased that the Department is allowing more time for stakeholders to comment on the 4(d) rule to explore whether additional changes should be made to it. The final rule must ensure that the best available science is used for conservation of these bats, while also trying to limit the burden on private forest landowners who have an important role to play in managing the bats’ recovery.

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