On November 29, 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced a final rule to reclassify the Northern Long Eared Bat (NLEB) from threatened to endangered, a move that will have wide ranging impacts to development and transportation projects across 37 states and the District of Columbia which comprise this bat’s range. Since 2015 the NLEB has been classified as threatened, which allows development projects to generally avoid federal tree clearing restrictions and site-specific bat surveys, but the new proposed rule will effectively remove those allowances. The up-listing, which will become effective on January 30, 2023, was proposed as a result of continued decline in the numbers of NLEB mostly due to the continued spread of white nose syndrome, a fungus that results in large numbers of deaths among hibernating bats.
What is the USFWS Guidance?
The development community has been waiting on guidance to be issued by the USFWS detailing the procedures that will have to be followed for construction projects. While we wait for that guidance, indications are that similar procedures for the less common and federally endangered Indiana Bat will be needed. While some exceptions may be encountered, this generally means that tree clearing will be restricted during the bat’s active season (generally April – November depending on location), or a site-specific bat survey will be required to clear a site of NLEB presence.
The USFWS had promised to issue specific guidance in November 2022, but state transportation agencies within the bat’s range have already begun instructing contractors and other interested parties to plan on having these restrictions in place in the Spring of 2023. The Virginia Department of Transportation has even issued an RFP for technical assistance in setting up a Programmatic Agreement with state and federal agencies knowing this new rule will have a significant impact on construction projects. Projects with wetland permits already issued that cannot be completed by the likely effective date of the up-listing (January 30, 2023) will likely be directly impacted and may have to re-coordinate their endangered species clearance, although interim consultation guidance is expected to be issued by USFWS which will discuss procedures for minimizing disruptions to already permitted projects.
How Can ECS Help?
Whatever the logistical process ends up being, development projects moving forward will surely have a new hurdle to overcome. ECS’ team of Natural Resource Professionals can help navigate your project through the process as efficiently as possible to help avoid schedule impacts. As with all endangered species concerns, early awareness helps avoid delays.
Contact us to learn more.
Photo Credit: Environmental Conservation Online System