Written By Joshua VanBrakle.

Posted on April 19th, 2016.

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We’ve fielded several questions from woodland owners about what the recent “Threatened” listing for the northern long-eared bat means for them. This article reviews what actions you’ll need permits for and who to contact to get them.

The northern long-eared bat lives throughout the eastern US and southern Canada. It eats insects like moths, flies, and beetles, which it often catches in midair. In the winter it hibernates in caves and old mines, and in the summer, the females raise their babies on “roost trees” in the woods.

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Northern long-eared bat. Photo credit: USFWSmidwest, Flickr.

Northern long-earned bats used to be widespread, but they’ve lost huge numbers due to a poorly-understood fungus called “white nose syndrome.” In some areas, this fungus has killed as many as 99% of the bats.

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Northern long-eared bat with white-nose syndrome. Note the distinctive white fungus around the bat’s face, which gives the disease its name. Photo credit: University of Illinois/Steve Tayler, Flickr.

Faced with these steep declines, in 2015 the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed the northern long-eared bat as “Threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. That classification isn’t as severe as “Endangered,” but it does allow FWS to develop regulations to help protect the bat. It’s those regulations that have led to many landowner questions about just what the bat’s listing means for them.

Key to bat protection are the roost trees and hibernation sites (called “hibernacula”). Bats gather and raise their young in these places, so interfering with them can kill bats in the process. As a result, you may need a federal or state permit (or both!) prior to any tree cutting near these areas. Since the rules differ between federal and state agencies, we’ll look at them separately.

Federal (US Fish and Wildlife Service)

You’ll need a FWS permit before doing either of the following:

  1. Cutting trees within a quarter mile of a known hibernaculum at any time of year.
  2. Cutting trees within 150 feet of a known roost tree from June 1 through July 31 (the time when the bats are raising their babies).

As of this writing, FWS does not require private landowners to do surveys to determine whether hibernacula or roost trees are on their land. Instead, you should contact your state’s Natural Heritage Program (here’s a contact list), which can tell you if these important places have been identified on or near your property.

If you need a FWS permit, you should call your local FWS Ecological Services Field Office. This website helps you find that office’s phone number. Click the state where your land is, then look under the category “Ecological Services Field Office” for the office closest to your land.

New York

States may have different, stricter rules than the federal FWS. Since I’m based in New York, I’ll review New York’s requirements. If your land is in another state, check with your state’s Natural Heritage Program to see if there are additional state regulations or permits you need to consider beyond the federal rules.

The same permitting requirements for the federal US Fish and Wildlife Service apply in New York. The big difference with New York concerns snags (standing dead trees) and cavity trees (live or dead trees with holes big enough for wildlife to nest in). These trees are considered most likely candidates for bats to use as roost trees. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) requires that from April 1 to October 31, landowners within 5 miles of a known hibernaculum must leave all snags and cavity trees uncut (because bats may be actively using them during that time). These trees can be cut other times of the year. (Aside: even though you’re allowed to cut these trees from November to March, they are great for lots of wildlife, not just bats, so it’s a good idea to leave these trees in place anyway). You can get an idea if your land is within one of these 5-mile areas by using the map below from the DEC:

 

map

Map of known northern long-eared bat hibernacula and roost trees in New York as of 2015. Map credit: NYS DEC

You can get a more detailed view by visiting the state’s Environmental Resource Mapper and zooming in to your land. Like the federal requirements, the DEC currently does not require landowners to survey their properties for hibernacula or roost trees. To read the full DEC regulations, click here.

If you’re in New York and need a state permit, you should contact the DEC. This website lists contact information for their field offices throughout the state. Find the one that’s closest to your land, then call and ask for Permitting.

The Bottom Line

If you’re a private landowner, the northern long-eared bat’s listing doesn’t prevent your timber harvest or firewood collection. The biggest restriction concerns hibernacula, but since they’re typically caves or old mines, most landowners aren’t going to have one nearby. Even then, you can still harvest trees at certain times of the year as long as you get a permit first. And if you’re outside the buffer zones for roost trees and hibernacula, the northern long-eared bat listing doesn’t affect you at all.

That said, it’s always a good idea to check with your state’s Natural Heritage Program ahead of major projects like a timber harvest to confirm whether your property has any threatened or endangered species on it (there’s more than just long-eared bat!). That way, you can find out what actions you need to take, if any, to keep in line with the law.

Want more information? Check out these resources from the US Fish and Wildlife Service:

  1. Key to Northern Long-Eared Bat Rule – This link asks you a series of questions to determine whether your planned project (such as a timber harvest or firewood removal) may require a FWS permit.
  2. Northern Long-Eared Bat FAQs – This link answers common questions about the northern long-eared bat and what’s prohibited under FWS regulations.
  3. Northern Long-Eared Bat species information – If you want to learn more about the northern long-eared bat, this link provides a brief overview. At the end, it also lists some ways you can help these important insect hunters, such as leaving dead trees standing, installing a bat box, and staying out of caves to avoid disturbing hibernating bats.

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