En­ergy firms call bat pro­tec­tion ploy to halt re­source ex­trac­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

A tiny brown bat known for its long ears is giv­ing the creeps to those fear­ful of its po­ten­tial to make jobs in the East and Mid­west dis­ap­pear.

Two weeks ago, the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice listed the north­ern long-eared bat as “threat­ened” un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act. It’s no se­cret that the bat’s num­bers have plum­meted, and it’s no se­cret why: A fun­gus known as white-nose syn­drome has dec­i­mated as much as 99 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in the North­east.

But for a three-inch crea­ture with a nine-inch wingspan, the brown bat boasts an enor­mous foot­print: While con­cen­trated in New Eng­land, the species is found in 37 states as far west as Wy­oming and as far south as Ge­or­gia. That in­cludes the tim­ber coun­ties of Michi­gan and the rich Marcellus shale for­ma­tion in Penn­syl­va­nia that has fu­eled the state’s frack­ing boom.

In that sense, crit­ics of the list­ing say the bat can be viewed as an Eastern ver­sion of the Greater sage grouse, a species whose de­clin­ing num­bers and vast range make it a use­ful ve­hi­cle for en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in­ter­ested in stop­ping nat­u­ral re­sources devel­op­ment, from log­ging and graz­ing to oil and gas devel­op­ment.

House Nat­u­ral Re­sources Com­mit­tee Chair Rob Bishop con­nected the dots in a state­ment is­sued af­ter the agency’s March 31 rul­ing, ac­cus­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of wield­ing the list­ing as a weapon against eco­nomic devel­op­ment on be­half of a species threat­ened not by industrial ac­tiv­ity but by dis­ease.

“This de­ci­sion flouts trans­parency and will fail to mit­i­gate the real men­ace to this species, which is a dis­ease called white nose syn­drome — not hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties,” the Utah Repub­li­can said. “If suc­cess here is de­fined by con­trol­ling more of peo­ple’s land and more peo­ple’s lives, then they have suc­ceeded.”

Barry Rus­sell, pres­i­dent and CEO of the In­de­pen­dent Petroleum As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, said that the “threat­ened” list­ing for the bat “does ab­so­lutely noth­ing to ad­dress this un­der­ly­ing prob­lem.”

“Ev­ery rea­son­able ef­fort should be made to halt the spread of this dis­ease, but pre­vent­ing highly reg­u­lated oil and nat­u­ral gas ac­tiv­i­ties from mov­ing for­ward will have no tan­gi­ble benefits to its pop­u­la­tion or the man­age­ment of white-nose syn­drome,” Mr. Rus­sell said in a let­ter that ap­peared Tues­day in the Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette.

Mean­while, the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice move didn’t go far enough for en­vi­ron­men­tal groups. The Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity plans to file a law­suit call­ing for a full “en­dan­gered” list­ing, call­ing the agency’s de­ci­sion a “sig­nif­i­cant step back­ward for the bat’s con­ser­va­tion.”

Noah Green­wald, the CBD’s en­dan­gered species direc­tor, said the group also plans to chal­lenge the in­terim rule that ac­com­pa­nied the list­ing, which al­lows some in­ci­den­tal killing of bats dur­ing for­est-man­age­ment ac­tiv­i­ties as long as the log­ging is done a quar­ter-mile from roost­ing and hi­ber­nat­ing.

“They switched from ‘ en­dan­gered’ to ‘threat­ened’ in or­der to cre­ate a spe­cial rule, and they ex­empted a whole bunch of things that are ac­knowl­edged to be threats to the species’ sur­vival from the pro­hi­bi­tions of the act,” said Mr. Green­wald. “From our per­spec­tive, it’s akin to pok­ing a can­cer pa­tient in the eye.”

Those ex­emp­tions may be the only thing stop­ping Michi­gan tim­ber com­pa­nies from fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of the Pa­cific North­west log­ging in­dus­try, which was all but dec­i­mated in the af­ter­math of a 1990 En­dan­gered Species Act list­ing.

“The way the [in­terim rule] is writ­ten, the fact that the bat has been listed as threat­ened as op­posed to en­dan­gered, I think it’s some­thing that we could work with,” said Scott Rob­bins, spokesman for the Michi­gan For­est Prod­ucts Coun­cil. “And there are things the for­est prod­ucts in­dus­try can do to en­hance the habi­tat. We can cre­ate roost­ing trees; we can work with the bat.”

Fear­ing the next shoe

At the same time, Mr. Rob­bins says he’s aware that fed­eral rules are sub­ject to change.

“The other shoe to drop is whether th­ese things are taken to court, and we’ll see what the fed­eral court sys­tem has to say about it all,” he said. “That’s kind of the way it went with the spot­ted owl too, you know. The habi­tat con­ser­va­tion plans weren’t too bad, then all of a sud­den there were stays on log­ging and old-growth log­ging, and it shut down about two-thirds of the in­dus­try out there.”

He said the log­ging in­dus­try af­fects less than 1 per­cent of the bat’s habi­tat. Michi­gan is home to a large num­ber of hi­ber­nac­ula, which house the bats while they hi­ber­nate. Some are lo­cated in trees, oth­ers in aban­doned mine shafts.

What frus­trates oil and gas of­fi­cials is that the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try didn’t re­ceive the same ex­emp­tions. The In­de­pen­dent Petroleum As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica and the Amer­i­can Petroleum In­sti­tute filed a re­quest in March call­ing for ex­empt­ing all oil and gas devel­op­ment from the ban on in­ci­den­tal bat deaths.

“[The] FWS con­clude that nat­u­ral gas devel­op­ment ‘alone do[es] not have sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tion-level ef­fects” on the brown bat, said the March 17 re­quest. “In other words, FWS con­cluded that what­ever [bat] habi­tat loss is oc­cur­ring as a re­sult of nat­u­ral gas devel­op­ment is not sig­nif­i­cant enough to threaten the sur­vival.”

The groups also said that oil and gas ac­tiv­i­ties have roughly “150 times less im­pact on bat habi­tat than the for­est man­age­ment ac­tiv­i­ties that the Ser­vice has al­ready ex­empted.”

Iron­i­cally, the in­dus­try with the big­gest im­pact on bats is ac­tu­ally the green en­ergy sec­tor, namely wind farms.

“Wind tur­bines kill bats and, depend­ing on the species, in very large num­bers,” says the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice on its web­site. “Mor­tal­ity has been doc­u­mented for north­ern long-eared bats, although a small num­ber have been found to date. How­ever, there are many wind projects within a large por­tion of the bat’s range, and many more are planned.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The gov­ern­ment declar­ing the north­ern longeared bat a threat­ened species runs afoul of en­ergy lob­bies con­cerned that pro­tect­ing its habi­tat will disturb re­source devel­op­ment.

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