New Bat Protection Rules Backed By Ohio Energy Group, Environmentalist Organization

Northern Long Eared Bat (photo: USFWS, Flickr)
Northern Long Eared Bat (photo: USFWS, Flickr)
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By ideastream's Brian Bull

New federal rules will go into effect next month to protect a bat species ravaged by a fungal disease over the past decade.  And two Ohio groups back the protections issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

With 30 states including Ohio reporting White Nose Syndrome, the quandary has been how to protect bat populations while not overly restricting development and forestry practices.  

The new regulations make it illegal to harass, harm, or kill bats in affected areas.  They also ban tree-removal within a quarter mile of such areas, and protect trees where young bats roost in June and July.

Shawn Bennett with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association (OOGA), supports the new federal rules.  He says they allow – under certain conditions -- for clearing land for pipeline development, among other energy activities. 

“In Ohio, industries will still be required to do bat surveys to ensure they are not impacting areas where bats reside, and the rule still will not allow for oil and gas industries or any others to clear trees during summer months if near known roost sites.” 

The Great Lakes Chapter of the National Wildlife Federation, also backs the rules.  The NWF's Frank Szollosi says bats devour many pests harmful to crops in the state. 

“White Nose Syndrome itself is across all of Ohio’s 88 counties," says Szollois. "It’s important not just to oil and gas, real estate developers, but I would think that Ohio agriculture would be supportive of efforts to protect a species that provides such incredible ecosystem services to farmers.” 

But other industry and environmental groups aren’t as receptive. The Independent Petroleum Association of America says the rules will drive up costs and hurt production, while the Center for Biological Diversity says it may challenge the regulations in court as insufficient protection for the mammals.

White Nose Syndrome disrupts the hibernation cycle of several species of bats, which has caused many to starve in the winter months.  The northern long-eared bat has been particularly hit, with mortality rates hitting 90 to 100 percent of those affected, including those in Summit County’s Liberty Park. 

The new regulations take effect February 16th.

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