Purchase photos

FWS details ESA listing for bat

8/22/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken an unusual step in its pursuit to add the northern long-eared bat to the endangered species list.

It's a bat that can be found in Ellis County, although there's little known about its habits.

It's also a bat devastated by white-nose syndrome, so the federal wildlife agency conducted three online information sessions this week to discuss its plight possibly adding it to the endangered species list.

In some locations, white-nose syndrome has killed 99 percent of the NLEB population since the disease was first discovered in 2006. White-nose syndrome is the primary threat facing northern long-eared bats. The agency also is considering threats posed by wind turbines and logging.

While FWS has proposed putting the bat on the list of endangered species, it could go on as either threatened or endangered -- the most serious category, considered to be in imminent danger of becoming extinct.

FWS doesn't know how many bats have been killed by the disease, observers taking part in Wednesday's joint telephone-online conference were told.

"We don't have population data for the range wide population of the northern long-eared bat, or the other bats affected by white nose," said Jeremy Coleman, the national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the federal agency. "Prior to arrival of white nose, these species were considered common and there were no efforts to make a count."

Despite the devastating toll the disease has taken, a listing decision has been a long time coming.

First petitioned to be added to the endangered species list in January 2010, the agency now has had three comment periods.

The latest 60-day comment period was announced in June and will close Aug. 29.

"We are taking this action based on substantial disagreement regarding the sufficiency or accuracy of the available data relevant to our determination regarding the proposed listing, making it necessary to solicit additional information by reopening the comment period for 60 days," the agency announced when reopening the comment period.

During Wednesday's conference, speakers were unclear exactly what the disagreements entail, other than how computer models suggest white-nose syndrome will affect the species, especially in areas where the disease hasn't been found.

Kansas still is listed as among the disease-free states, although it has been found in several locations in Missouri, including one site adjacent to the Kansas border.

A reported sighting near Woodward, Okla., now has been discounted after retesting.

Arkansas, Michigan and Wisconsin reported their first confirmed cases of white-nose syndrome among affected cave-hibernating bats this past winter, increasing the total number of affected states to 25, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

While WNS isn't in Kansas, there's little known about the habits of northern long-eared bats in the state.

The effect of white-nose syndrome and the lack of information about the species prompted Curtis Schmidt to petition the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to list it as a species in need of conservation.

That idea didn't sail through the state wildlife agency's threatened and endangered species task force, but Schmidt, collections manager at Sternberg Museum of Natural History, and Fort Hays State University wildlife biologist Elmer Finck have applied for a grant to study the bats.

"Long thought to be a migrant, this species has been found to reproduce in the state," Schmidt wrote in his petition to list the bat. "There is recent evidence for maternity colonies in central Kansas. I have personally captured pregnant females in Ellis County."

Previously known populations in northeast Kansas are believed to no longer exist.

The bats are known to hibernate in caves and deep crevices, but there are few caves in the area.

"In Kansas, we know very little about this species," Schmidt wrote, "especially what they do in winter."

He thinks they might hibernate in rock crevices along the Saline River.

Without any additional delays, FWS plans to make a decision by April 2.