A District Court Ruling on the Northern Long-eared Bat: Implications for the Bats and Other Species

By: Ellen Whittle, Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Graduate Student

A tiny bat which occurs in Wyoming made headlines recently following a DC District Court ruling. The northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) was listed under the Endangered Species Act by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2015. At that time, the USFWS classified the species as threatened rather than endangered because the USFWS found that the bat was threatened throughout its entire range. Several environmental groups including the Center for Biological Diversity have since challenged the ruling. On January 28, 2020, the District Court rejected the listing decision, giving the opinion that the USFWS needed to conduct a more thorough analysis of whether the species is endangered in a significant portion of its range.

What does this mean for the northern long-eared bat in Wyoming? For now, nothing has changed. The Court ordered the USFWS to revisit the listing but did not vacate the threatened listing; current management and protections will continue until a new listing decision is issued. The USFWS will continue to offer technical assistance for projects that fall within the area of influence for the northern long-eared bat, and have consultations with Federal projects that may adversely affect habitat within 0.25 miles of a hibernacula, or within 150 feet of a maternity roost during June and July. If the USFWS were to redo its listing decision and determine that the northern long-eared bat is endangered, incidental take allowed under the 4(d) rule would be eliminated. The prohibition against incidental take would impact any construction project that would require tree clearing in the species’ range such as wind projects, building construction, or pipelines. However, the USFWS may revisit the listing decision and retain the threatened listing status, and the status quo would remain.

The listing decision has potential effects for other wildlife species, because the decision suggests that the Courts may require that the Service cannot halt its analysis once a species is considered threatened throughout its entire range, but must continue analysis and determine whether the species is also endangered in a significant portion of the range. This may impact future listing decisions for any species under status review, particularly wide-ranging species which are only endangered in a portion of the range. However, the final impact of the Court’s ruling is uncertain, as either the plaintiffs or the USFWS could appeal the Court’s decision. For now, it is too early to say what the outcome will be for the northern long-eared bat.