U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) sharply criticized the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) misguided decision to address the decline of the northern long-eared bat population by listing the bat as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Although not a member of the EPW Committee, Thune was invited to speak at today’s hearing by the committee chairman to point out that the northern long-eared bat’s declining population is due to disease, not loss of habitat, and to express his strong opposition to the FWS action.
Thune’s statement is below, and video is available here.
“Mr. Chairman, I appreciate you and Senator Boxer holding this hearing today, and particularly giving me the opportunity to make a couple of comments about this bill.
“On March 4th I introduced S.655, which is a bill to prohibit the use of funds by the Secretary of the Interior to make a final determination on the listing of the northern long-eared bat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
“Listing the northern long-eared bat under the Endangered Species Act is a misguided attempt by the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect this species, which is suffering death loss and reduction in numbers from a fungus called white nose syndrome – not because of habitat loss.
“Mr. Chairman, even the Fish and Wildlife Service has acknowledged that, and I quote: ‘White Nose Syndrome alone has led to dramatic and rapid population level effects on the northern long-eared bat’ and ‘the species likely would not be imperiled were it not for this disease.’
“The Congressional Research Service has informed me that during the last 10 years no species has been listed in the United States under the Endangered Species Act naming disease as a primary factor for reduction in numbers and the listing.
“And I point out that the white nose syndrome has been detected in only 25 of the 39 states included in the northern long-eared bat’s range.
“Yet as a result of the misguided listing of this species thousands of jobs are placed at risk, including more than 1,500 timber industry jobs in my home state of South Dakota.
“My concern is that the Fish and Wildlife Service has insufficient supporting data to warrant listing the northern long-eared bat as a threatened species, particularly given the absence of white nose syndrome in so much of its range.
“In addition, I believe the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to adequately gather and consider credible information available from state government entities and other non-federal sources before making its decision to list the northern long-eared bat.
“Mr. Chairman, let me just say what concerns me the most is that with the listing of this northern long-eared bat, once again we have a federal agency that is throwing aside common sense and listening to special interest groups that based on their actions, do not have the best interests of the people of this country in mind.
“Along with the listing the northern long-eared bat the Fish and Wildlife Service has also published a proposed rule called the 4(d) rule which was designed to offer protection to forestry management practices that would actually enhance the northern long-eared bats’ habitat.
“It is my understanding that litigation filed by Center for Biological Diversity regarding the 4(d) rule raises a purely procedural claim that is that the Fish and Wildlife Service must perform NEPA analysis on the 4(d) rule prior to finalizing it.
“It is likely the Center for Biological Diversity will seek a stay or preliminary injunction request on the interim 4(d) rule. If an injunction is granted, forestry practices would not be exempt from the take prohibitions of the Endangered Species Act – which would be an uncalled for blow to the timber industry and other industries in the eastern two-thirds of the United States.
“Mr. Chairman, just to summarize, many of my colleagues and I are deeply disappointed that in listing the northern long-eared bat the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to adequately address that the real reason even it recognizes as the decline of the northern-long eared bat is the white nose syndrome – and not loss of habitat.
“I believe much more progress could have been made if the Fish and Wildlife Service had taken the funds it is using to list the northern long-eared bat and used those funds for research and other tools to diminish the effects of the white nose syndrome.
“We all know that Congress stepped in and took control of another ESA listing by removing the Northern Rockies Gray Wolf off the ESA list because Fish and Wildlife Service was too timid to do it.
“That may be what is necessary regarding the northern long-eared bat. In the case of the Northern Rockies Gray Wolf the Congress stepped in because nearly everyone acknowledged that the wolf was a recovered species.
“In the case of the northern long-eared bat, the issue isn’t whether the species is in trouble, it’s whether the ESA listing provides the kind of help this species needs, and other species like it. The answer to that is a firm no.
“I would hope, Mr. Chairman, that you all could work with me on this issue. It has a very detrimental impact on the economy of the Black Hills of South Dakota, and it doesn’t address the fundamental problem, which is the disease this bat is facing—and not the habitat. This will have profound impacts on the habitat and our ability to continue to produce timber in the Black Hills, something that is very important to the economy of that region and a lot of jobs.”