(CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wrongly decided to list the northern long-eared bat as “threatened” rather than “endangered,” when white-nose syndrome has exterminated bat populations in many northeastern states, Defenders of Wildlife say.
A disease named for the white fungal growth it causes on the muzzles and wings of bats, white-nose syndrome has nearly wiped out bat populations in the United States.
In the most recent population counts, zero northern long-eared bats were found in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New York.
In New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, populations have dropped 99 percent. This region was once the core U.S. geographic area for the species.
The disease has spread rapidly since it was first observed in 2006, and has particularly affected populations of the northern long-eared bat.
Across the border, Canada listed the species as engendered in an emergency ruling, according to the complaint.
Though Fish and Wildlife proposed listing the species as endangered throughout its range in October 2013, Defenders of Wildlife filed a federal complaint in Washington on Thursday saying regulators backtracked.
“The proposed rule explained: ‘the northern long-eared bat is presently in danger of extinction throughout its entire range based on the severity and immediacy of threats currently affecting the species,'” the complaint states.
Between 2013 and 2015, white-nose syndrome spread to six other U.S. states.
Nevertheless Fish and Wildlife decided in its final rule to list the northern long-eared bats as threatened, not endangered, because there were “potentially millions” of bats still in states not affected by the fungus.
“To reach its untenable conclusion that the northern long-eared bat is threatened rather than endangered, the service applied an interpretation of ‘in danger of extinction’ that constitutes a radical departure from the interpretation applied in the proposed rule and unreasonably requires a species to be at the point of functional extinction to warrant listing as endangered,” according to the complaint.
Fish and Wildlife decided that, since the species is not on the brink of extinction throughout its entire range, it does not merit endangered species’ protections.
“The service’s reversal of position regarding the status of the northern long-eared bat was motivated by widespread opposition from private and state entities seeking to avoid the imposition of mandatory statutory protections against take that apply to species listed as endangered,” the complaint says.
Defenders of Wildlife staff attorney Jane Davenport said the bat “needs the full extent of the protection” provided by the Endangered Species Act.
“Threatened status simply isn’t enough,” Davenport said in a statement. “It’s time for FWS to step up and give the northern long-eared bat the endangered species protections it desperately needs.”
FWS spokesman Brian Hires defended the agency’s actions.
“The science has shown that the primary threat to the northern long-eared bat is white-nose syndrome,” Hires said in an email. “Our threatened listing with a 4(d) rule allows us to work with diverse partners throughout the bat’s range to tailor meaningful conservation efforts while focusing on the primary threat to bat, white-nose syndrome.”
Defenders of Wildlife wants the court to make Fish and Wildlife reconsider listing the northern long-eared bat, and issue a new final rule within six months.
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