The Biden administration officially designated the northern long-eared bat as endangered on Tuesday. The announcement was a part of a last-ditch effort to save this species, which has nearly been wiped out by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease.
“White-nose syndrome is decimating cave-dwelling bat species like the northern long-eared bat at unprecedented rates,” said Martha Williams, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to Williams, the agency stays “deeply committed to working with partners on a balanced approach that reduces the impacts of disease and protects the survivors to recover northern long-eared bat populations.”
The disease was first documented in the U.S. in 200. It has now infected 12 types of bats and killed millions. The northern long-eared bat remains among the hardest hit. Its population has declined with 97% or higher in affected populations, according to estimates.
The bat can be found in 37 eastern and northern states, plus Washington, D.C., and much of Canada.
The syndrome is named for the white, fuzzy spots that appear on infected bats. White-nose syndrome attacks bats’ wings, muzzles and ears while they hibernate in caves and mines.
It also causes them to wake early from hibernation. Sometimes, the animals will fly outside. They can burn up their winter fat stores quickly, eventually starving.
The disease spread across 80% of the creature’s geographic range, and the disease is expected to cover their entire range by 2025.
Other Bat Species Endangered Because of White-Nose Syndrome
Another species, the tricolored bat, has felt detrimental effects from the disease. The government proposed to classify as endangered in September. A third, the little brown bat, could qualify for a potential listing.
It’s estimated that bats boost U.S. agriculture profits of $3 billion annually. This is because they eat many pests and pollinate some plants.
The Fish and Wildlife Service designated the northern long-eared bat as threatened in 2015. With its situation increasingly dire, the agency has now proposed an endangered listing. The reclassification takes effect Jan. 30, 2023.
“This species is in dire straits but we never want to give up hope,” said Winifred Frick, chief scientist with Bat Conservation International. BCI is a nonprofit group.
“We can do amazing things when we work hard and have legal protections in place to protect these small colonies that are left.”
However, the service didn’t identify any “critical habitat” areas for fear of making things worse for the animals this winter.
Recovery efforts will focus on wooded areas where the bats roost in summer. They usually do this alone or in small groups, nestling beneath bark or in tree cavities. They arise at dusk to feed on moths, beetles and other insects.
Under the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to be sure projects that they fund or authorize won’t jeopardize the existence of any of these species. These projects could include highway construction, timber harvests, etc.