Industry girds for battle over ‘bat’ ruling

HomeColumnsIndustry girds for battle over ‘bat’ ruling

October 13/20, 2014; Volume 28/Number 9

By Don Finkell

Over the past several months, officials in the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been considering a decision that could have serious consequences for the entire forest products industry, including the North American wood flooring business. The proposed listing of the North American Long Eared Bat as an endangered species could have implications for a wide range of industries. Oil and gas, mining, wind energy, farming and forestry would all be impacted if the proposed guidelines related to the listing are allowed to proceed unchecked.

The Northern Long Eared Bat is a small cave-dwelling mammal that is being decimated due to the fast-spreading and deadly White Nose Syndrome (WNS), and the U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are in the final stages of designating the bat as either “threatened” or “endangered.” WNS is an invasive fungus that kills bats while they hibernate. It is believed to have come from Europe in 2006 to a cave near Albany, N.Y., and has since spread to 39 states and Canada, killing millions of bats.

The problem for the wood industry is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed a series of protective measures for the bat that impact forest-related activities, including logging restrictions in all the hardwood growing states from April to October each year. Once the Fish and Wildlife Service lists a species as endangered, the organization is required to take measures to protect each and every one of the species without regard to economic consequences.

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has focused efforts to slow the bat’s population decline on human activities, including timber harvests, which even FWS itself recognizes does not have an appreciable effect on the species population levels. Forest-related activities actually create a habitat vital to the bats’ survival. Simply shutting down timber harvests or clearing activities will not save the bat. It is concerning that FWS is not considering the best and most recent data as it contemplates this very important matter.

Instead of halting human activities, every effort should be made to address and cure the disease, which is the best answer for both our industry and the bat population.

Many will remember the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest and the restrictions on harvesting old growth forests that resulted from its endangered listing. Although it was later determined that spotted owls nest in both old and new growth forests, the damage to the forest products industry was irreversible. Today, there is almost no wood industry left there. As went the mills, so went the towns, tax base and schools.

Unless a cure is found for WNS, the bats are in serious trouble. There is much work being done to find a cure for the disease, including some very promising work out of Georgia State University, but a silver bullet has not yet been discovered.

If not for the work of the Hardwood Federation, the hardwood industry’s voice in Washington, D.C., the bat would have been listed as endangered as of this month. Extensive lobbying by the federation and its coalition partners effected a six-month postponement of the decision until April 1, 2015.

On Sept. 9, the Hardwood Federation along with many members of the NWFA board of directors held over 100 meetings with senators, congressmen and their staffs on Capitol Hill, with the bat as the No. 1 priority issue. The message was clear: Common sense must prevail in terms of both listing the bat and adopting real solutions that make a difference.

Don Finkell is chairman of the Hardwood Federation, an industry advocacy group, and CEO of American OEM.

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