Long-Eared Bat Declaration That Affects Thousands of Projects Gets Delayed

Thousands of road, bridge and transportation maintenance projects in 37 states got a slight reprieve from a long-eared bat that could lead to construction delays.

The northern long-eared bat, whose population is being decimated by a disease called white-nose syndrome, was scheduled to be added to the Endangered Species List on January 30 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but the agency recently announced it has delayed the designation until March 31. The delay does not come with a public comment period.

The designation affects more than 25,000 new and ongoing projects, FWS says.

At least 3,095 projects will need to provide an “incidental take statement” to FWS, according to the agency. Without that statement, “incidental take of the species that is reasonably certain to occur as a result of some of these actions would now be prohibited,” the agency says in its notice in the Federal Register of the delayed declaration.

FWS reports it has provided consultation on another 24,480 projects within the 37 states concerning the bat, and many of those projects are incomplete. On those projects, incidental take of the bat was allowed, but will be prohibited under the new declaration. Those projects would also have had to stop until the FWS could develop and provide biological opinions and incident take statements, as well as provide conservation tools and guidance documents.

The delay will help prevent confusion and disruption of the new endangered species declaration, FWS said. “During this period, we will finalize the guidance and tools that are under development and communicate with external partners to minimize project delays.”

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association, as well as other construction and business groups, fear the endangered-species declaration could hinder plans to implement the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law, as well as affect other construction projects.

{Related content: A Long-Eared Bat Could Hold Up Infrastructure Projects, ARTBA Fears}

“The declaration triggers significant new regulatory requirements under the Endangered Species Act, allowing the federal government to set aside areas of land that are deemed ‘critical’ for the bat’s survival,” ARTBA says. “… Once land is set aside, any sort of development (including transportation construction) becomes severely restricted.”

ARTBA has also challenged the Fish & Wildlife Service’s designation of the northern long-eared bat as endangered and sees the recent delay as “reinforcing ARTBA’s position.”

The association says the cause of white nose syndrome and how to prevent it is unknown, and more information is needed. ARTBA adds that state departments of transportation have begun adding provisions to contracts to protect the bat’s habitat.