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SC timber industry opposes giving tiny bats endangered status

A federal plan to list an increasingly rare and disease-prone bat species as endangered is drawing enough opposition that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking more public comment before deciding on the proposal next year.

Found on the East Coast from New England through South Carolina and Georgia, the northern long-eared bat is in need of protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to the federal government.

But state wildlife agencies and forestry industry groups say the federal government doesn’t have enough information to list the northern long-eared bat as endangered in the South and Midwest. They oppose designating the small bat as endangered.

Forest industry officials are particularly concerned that a federal listing could hurt their ability to harvest timber.

Seasonal restrictions from an endangered species status could cause hardships for some 350,000 forest landowners in South Carolina, according to the S.C. Forestry Association. Northern long-eared bats roost in trees during the summertime.

“I know the intentions were good and everybody is concerned about the bat population, but that’s just not the way to go about it,” said Cam Crawford, president and chief officer with the state Forestry Association, an industry group.

Fish and Wildlife service officials proposed listing the northern long-eared bat as endangered in October 2013. The plan would provide endangered species status throughout the animal’s range, which includes 38 states.

The northern long-eared bat, found in the mountains of South Carolina, has been dwindling in recent years because of a disease known as white-nose syndrome. The disease can cause bats to awake from hibernation early, fly during daylight hours and lose fat reserves, all of which are believed to be depleting the species and other types of bats. About a half-dozen bat species in South Carolina are at risk from the disease.

Service biologists cited the sharp decline from white-nose syndrome as one reason for the proposed listing. Bats are important for many reasons, including their appetite for bugs that are considered nuisances to people.

Not everyone, however, thinks the threat of disease is enough to warrant endangered species status.

Many state fish and wildlife agencies said the federal plan to list the bat as endangered also is based too heavily on data from the northeastern U.S. and not enough data from other parts of the country. Fish and wildlife agency associations from the South and Midwest expressed that concern in a Nov. 5 letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“It’s important that you get this right,” said Derrell Shipes, a wildlife chief with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Bob Perry, director of the DNR’s environmental programs, said his agency generally seeks to protect dwindling plants and animals without having to go through the Endangered Species Act.

Acknowledging such concerns, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a notice Tuesday that it would reopen the public comment period through Dec. 18. The service is expected to decide on the bat’s status by April 2, 2015.