Research ongoing in Northern Long Eared Bat debate: Inclusion on endangered species list will impact logging industry
BEMIDJI -- In the past decade, a new plague has been affecting an integral part of Minnesotans' lives -- bats. The Northern Long Eared Bat, specifically.
That has led to a proposal to add the mammal to the federal endangered species list has caused concern not only for the bats' well being, but also that protecting the animals' summer habitat could stifle the logging industry.
"White-nose syndrome is really the culprit here," said Richard Moore, Beltrami County Director of Resource Management. "The fungus kills them."
Moore presented information on the Northern Long Eared Bat to county commissioners at Tuesday's meeting.
Should the Northern Long Eared Bat be added to the endangered list, killing one of the bats, even accidentally, would be illegal. Federal regulations would be imposed including inspecting any trees 3 inches in diameter or larger for a maternal bat colony before harvesting the timber between April and September. That could become incredibly time-consuming and impact the logging industry's already short, active season. The Northern Long Eared Bat has been observed nesting in at least 35 species of trees.
"It would be hard on mills, forest management, logging," Moore said. "It would affect everyone in the forest product business."
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision on whether or not to include the Northern Long Eared Bat on either the endangered or threatened species list will be made in April. Public comments are being accepted through Aug. 29 online at www.regulations.gov.
As outlined in the Federal Endangered Species Act of 1973, the fish and wildlife service classifies endangered species as those in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A threatened species is one likely to become endangered.
A common misconception is bats are like mice and rodents who produce litters of young.
"A bat produces one pup a year," Moore said. "There is a timespan between two weeks to a month where that pup is unable to fly."
Because the animals are helpless during the active logging season, the industry could be negatively affected by the bat being added to the endangered list. Research is still being done on how many bats in Minnesota are affected by the syndrome. Moore said Enbridge conducted a survey this summer that indicated the Northern Long Eared Bat was present in Hubbard and Cass Counties.
White-nose syndrome was first detected in New York in 2006. It has spread to 25 states and five areas in Canada affecting seven species, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. Bats that develop white-nose syndrome grow a white fungus on their muzzles and have been observed to act oddly. Rather than hibernating, the nocturnal creatures have been seen flying outside during the day in the winter.
Northern Long Eared Bats live in 39 states and nine Canadian provinces. The range of Northern Long Eared Bats starts on the East Coast and stops near the Rocky Mountains. The species also does not live in the southernmost part of the United States.
Northern Long Eared Bats are approximately 3 to 4 inches tall, brown, fuzzy and characterized by their oversized ears. There are approximately 5,000 in Minnesota, Moore reported.
Moore said there are seven species of bats in Minnesota and four are winter cavedwellers, including the Northern Long Eared Bat. It is believed the bats that roost in the Bemidji area winter in the Soudan-Underground mine, he said. Bats carrying the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome have been observed in the mine. White-nose syndrome is not dangerous to humans, pets, livestock or other wildlife.
The fungus that causes the syndrome, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, has been detected in Minnesota, Iowa and Mississippi. Three species of bat have been exposed to the fungus and have not yet developed the syndrome.
Bats and you, how to live harmoniously
Contrary to popular opinion, the majority of bats do not carry rabies. Moore said dogs are more likely to be rabid than a bat.
"Bats are a huge part of our ecosystem," Moore said.
The mammals feed on moths, flies, leafhoppers, caddisflies, beetles and mosquitoes. A single bat can consume 3,000 or more mosquitoes in a night. An adult Northern Long Eared Bat can live up to 19 years.
Although a beneficial neighbor, it can be a nuisance when a bat attempts to live with people inside their homes, garages or other buildings. Instead of calling an exterminator, bats can be coaxed into a more preferential position by installing a bat box on your property.
Bat boxes are one way people can help preserve or create habitat for the Northern Long Eared Bat and other species in Minnesota. Moore said the boxes are approximately a foot wide-by-two feet deep. Boxes have vertical slats inside and are open on the bottom, they can be built out of plywood or cedar. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife website -- www.fws.gov -- has instructions on how to build a backyard habitat for wildlife bat box.
Corey Mlodik, wildlife biologist, and Justin Tabaka, biological science technician, with the U.S. Forest Service have been conducting bat research in the Chippewa National Forest in Blackduck.
"If people are having a bat problem in or near their homes, we recommend putting up a bat house away from the residence in a place it won't be disturbed," Mlodik said.
Tabaka said unlike birdhouses, bats are self sufficient and find their own food source. Bats also provide natural fertilizer.
Bat boxes have been added to campgrounds in the Chippewa National Forest. Mlodik said if possible it's best to have the boxes facing south for sun exposure, elevated and in close proximity to water.
Mlodik and Tabaka have been conducting research on area bats since 2011. Ten years of research is needed for an accurate study, Mlodik said. The survey window is from June to July; they are now in the process of analyzing data collected this summer.
"We look at long-term regional population trends and are developing a data set for the Chippewa National Forest to be used along with other agencies data," Tabaka said.
When monitoring bats, a high frequency microphone called an ultrasonic receiver is mounted to a vehicle and connected to a laptop for data collection. The scientists then drive along five routes plotted in the forest and record high frequency sounds. The locations are recorded by GPS and locate where bats are roosting.
"Each bat has it's own unique call," Tabaka said.
Before modern technology, scientists studying bats would have to trap and release the animals for observation. The research Mlodik and Tabaka are doing is intended to identify which species are living in the Chippewa National Forest and if there are any preferred roosting locations.