24 groups urge federal review of weak habitat protections for Florida bat

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida— More than twenty environmental organizations have urged the US Fish and Wildlife Service to provide additional habitat protections for the Florida Bonneted Bat. Endangered native bats face devastating habitat loss due to climate change and urban sprawl.

Following a court-ordered settlement, the US Fish and Wildlife Service proposed critical habitat for the Florida Bonneted Bat in November. As noted in the groups’ letter, sent Monday, the 2022 proposal removed protections for more than 250,000 acres that had been in an earlier 2020 proposal. The Fish and Wildlife Service also arbitrarily excluded feeding habitat. key used by urban bat populations and the increasingly important artificial bat houses.

“Florida’s bonneted bats are in desperate need of critical habitat protection, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has excluded crucial areas threatened by development at this time,” said Ragan Whitlock, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity with headquarters in Florida. “These vulnerable bats deserve better. Federal officials should review their plan to safeguard all the places animals need to survive and recover.”

“The Florida bonneted bat is the rarest bat in the United States,” said Lauren Jonaitis, senior director of conservation for the Tropical Audubon Society. “This species has suffered from habitat loss due to rapid land development and climate change, which has reduced its availability of natural refuge. For these reasons, we need the Service to review the final designation to prevent further decline of the species or possible extinction.”

“If we have any chance of protecting the Florida bonneted bat from extinction, we need more significant habitat protections than the current plan provides,” said Melqui Gamba-Rios, Ph.D., endangered species intervention researcher with Bat Conservation International.

Although the federal proposal acknowledges that bats and their habitat are threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, the Service also failed to extend much-needed protections for unoccupied critical habitat. Climate change and sea level rise, along with continued population growth and projected human migration away from coasts, will likely force the Florida bonneted bat to move north and inland into unoccupied areas of Florida. . Protections for unoccupied critical habitat will be essential to ensure bats have a place to go.

The federal proposal also excludes areas with “human-made structures,” including those known to be used by bats. This exclusion contradicts available science showing that various bat populations depend on bat houses and urban foraging areas for survival. It also risks leaving the most important foraging area for Bonneted Bats in Miami-Dade County unprotected in the face of the Miami Wilds water park and commercial development project.

Several conservation groups have notified the National Park Service that it illegally licensed that water park in 2022 without the necessary federal environmental review.

Animals with critical habitat protected by the federal government are more than twice as likely to make progress toward recovery than species without such protections. Federal agencies that fund or permit projects in critical habitat must consult with the Service to ensure that their actions do not damage or destroy this habitat.

Development and use of pesticides nearly led to the extinction of Florida’s bonneted bats before Center litigation forced the Service to protect the species in 2013 under the Endangered Species Act. Conservation groups sued again in 2018 and then again this year to ensure habitat protection for the species.

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Named for the wide ears that hang over their foreheads, bonneted bats are the largest of Florida’s 13 bat species and the second-largest in North America. Bats roost in cavities in old trees and man-made structures, and feed on insects in dark open spaces. They also use one of the lowest frequency echolocation calls of all bats, so some people can hear the bird chirps of bonneted bats while hunting for insects.

Florida’s bonneted bats have one of the smallest ranges of any bat species. They live only in southern Florida, an area that is highly susceptible to sea level rise, major storm impacts, and development. Projections indicate that sea levels will rise between 3 and 6 feet in much of the bat habitat over the course of this century.

The 2022 Fish and Wildlife Service proposal follows a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Tropical Audubon Society and the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association.

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