April 27/May 4, 2015; Volume 29/Number 2
By Ken Ryan
The U.S. hardwood industry appears to have dodged a bullet following the April ruling by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that declared the Northern Long Eared Bat a “threatened” species rather than “endangered.”
While the difference in definition may seem small, in terms of application under the Endangered Species Act it is significant, according to hardwood industry executives. Don Finkell, CEO of American OEM and chairman of the Hardwood Federation, said “‘threatened’ with a 4(d) rule is a lot better than “endangered.”
“There are still a lot of rules around harvesting but nothing like an endangered listing would have brought,” Finkell said.
Dana Lee Cole, executive director of the Hardwood Federation, said an endangered listing would have triggered a number of extremely stringent protective actions under the law, limiting virtually any activity that is deemed disruptive to the bat’s habitat, “regardless of how those activities actually impact the bat.” The threatened designation does allow for some flexibility in protective measures and restrictions.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service has made significant changes to their original guidance to protect the Northern Long Eared Bat in favor of the forest products industry,” Cole told FCNews. “While not perfect, they will be less onerous on private landowners compared to the requirements of the original document.”
The so-called 4(d) rule puts restraints on timber harvesting particularly during the months of June and July when bat “pups” are born. The Fish and Wildlife Service has designated “buffer zones” that are defined as areas within 150 miles of U.S. and Canadian districts where White Nose Syndrome (a virus that has killed millions of bats) has been detected. These zones effectively cover most of the eastern part of the U.S. with the exception of some of the most southern areas of southern states.
For areas within the buffer zones, the 4(d) rule exempts the following activities from the guidance: forest management practices; limited tree removal projects, provided these activities protect known maternity roosts and hibernacula; removal of hazardous trees; maintenance and limited expansion of transportation and utility rights-of-way, and prairie habitat management.
However, the above activities must occur more than .25 miles from known, occupied hibernacula (caves or bat hibernation sites). This applies for all months of the year, and the activity must avoid cutting or destroying known, occupied roost trees between June 1 and July 31 (pup season). Trees near or next to roost trees may be removed although clear cuts would be prohibited.
During months other than June and July, forest management activities, including timber harvests, may proceed unless they are within the 0.25 radius of known hibernacula. Cole said this presents several challenges for the forest products industry, including hardwood businesses, for the following reasons:
- Defining known hibernacula and occupied roost trees is difficult and time consuming. While studies do exist that identify these sites, they can be out-of-date and inaccurate, leading to disputes between regulators and landowners where permits for harvesting are required, particularly on federal lands.
- Pup season occurs in the middle of prime harvest season for many locations, leaving operators to struggle during months of more questionable weather. “This will be particularly onerous on federal lands as this additional restriction will most likely become another point of contention for environmental groups that protest harvests on public lands,” Cole said.
- The above-mentioned guidance does not solve the primary issue of the bat population decline: White Nose Syndrome (WNS). Cole said the Fish and Wildlife Service has not addressed how to slow or cure WNS, which is the only action that will have any appreciable impact on the bat’s sustainability.