Environmentalists Sue Feds for Inaction on Endangered Bat

A Florida bonneted bat. (Kathleen Smith/Center for Biological Diversity)

WASHINGTON (CN) – A lawsuit filed by conservation groups Monday is a stark warning on the future of an endangered bat species after years of alleged inaction by the federal agency tasked with keeping the bat alive.

In a complaint filed in the federal court in Washington, the Center for Biological Diversity, Tropical Audubon Society, and the South Florida chapter of the North American Butterfly Association Chapter are asking a judge to step in and force the Interior Department and its U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services to establish protections for the Florida bonneted bat.

According to the complaint, the protections should have been put in place six years ago, but to date nothing has been done.

“The Florida bonneted bat’s very existence remains at risk until the Service fulfills its statutory duty to designate the critical habitat necessary to support survival and recovery,” the complaint says.

Just last week, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke touted his successful rollback of numerous regulations, under orders from President Donald Trump, in the hope of “cutting bureaucratic red tape.”

Efforts included “modernizing the Endangered Species Act’s use of “critical habitat” designations and strengthening the economic and scientific standards used to list and de-list species.”

“Critical habitat” designations are geographic areas set aside to help protect endangered species – sometimes they are the native habitats, other times they are new areas designated to support growth.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service website, such areas are designated through the rulemaking process Zinke addressed last week.

The agency’s website lists 704 designated habitats for the more than 1,500 U.S. endangered species.

But while the plaintiffs are suing the Trump administration, they trace the failure to address the bonneted bat’s needs back to the Obama White House. According to the filing, after the bat was designated an endangered species in 2012, the government failed to set aside critical habitat because such land was “not determinable.”

The plaintiffs disagree, saying the species’ native territory is well documented in Florida’s Charlotte, Lee, Collier, Monroe, and Miami-Dade counties. Their complaint goes on to list 26 known colonies of the bat in 11 different roosting sites documented by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

According to the plaintiffs, none of those 11 roosting sites are now “at risk of inundation with one to six feet of projected sea level rise.”

“We can’t save Florida bonneted bats without protecting the places where they live and forage,” said Rachael Curran, the lawyer representing the Center for Biological Diversity in this case. “If these bats are to have any chance at surviving sea-level rise, federal wildlife officials need to protect their remaining habitat now.”

Representatives of the government defendants did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed an intent to sue notice against Zinke back in June after the Trump administration approved the Coral Reef Commons “mega-development” in the native land of the bonneted bat.

According to the conservation group the project will impact the homes of over 20 endangered plant and animal species including the eastern indigo snake, gopher tortoise, Florida brickell-bush and two butterflies, the Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak and Florida leafwing.

The Coral Reef commons project includes 42 acres of retail and 900 apartment units, covering a total of 120 acres right outside Florida’s Everglades National Park. In March 2017, a federal judge in Miami allowed the project to go forward, lifting a stay that had previously been put in place.

The legal challenges to the project continue.

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