By DAVID KRIER
Recent action by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) regarding the threatened Northern Long-Eared Bat (NLEB) species has area loggers concerned, with action pending that would prohibit any activity within a quarter mile of a known, occupied bat hibernation site. Since most logging activity takes place in the wintertime, and this particular bat species hibernates in southwestern Wisconsin’s many limestone caves, area loggers are worried the USFWS’ new rules could adversely affect their livelihood.
“If you have a bat cave on your land you can do nothing within a quarter mile of that cave under these new rules,” said Gary Halpin of Riverside Sawmill north of Muscoda. “This has some real potential to be an issue for private landowners. It’s a problem for me as a business working with landowners to buy timber.”
The proposed rules were introduced by USFWS on Jan. 16, with the public comment period ending on March 17. If approved, the new rules would be administered by the Wisconsin DNR.
“It’s not a veil of secrecy, but not many people know about it, and it’s moving very rapidly,” Halpin said of the proposed rules.
Wisconsin loggers are required to file a cutting notice with the DNR before logging activity can take place, that in turn kicks in something the DNR calls the National Heritage Inventory (NHI), the program responsible for maintaining data on the locations and status of rare species.
Halpin points out that since the implementation of the Ag Use Assessment law in 1986, many private landowners have entered their timberland into the DNR’s Managed Forest Law, which significantly reduces their property tax bill. Like the cutting notice, it also brings the NHI into effect.
“Since 70 percent of private forest land in Richland County is now managed by the DNR, they use the NHI to identify and manage species on that list,” Halpin said. And in Richland County that also includes the Northern Long-Eared Bat, as well as the Northern Flying Squirrel, Gray Wolf and Timber Rattlesnake, among many others.
Halpin says it is the white-nose syndrome that is killing Wisconsin’s bats, not logging activity. While he agrees that the Northern Long-Eared Bat is in trouble, he disagrees that the USFWS’ new rules are the solution.
“The problem is the white-nose syndrome,” Halpin says. “The bats are in trouble, but I can’t get a handle on the science of restricting activity to this extent. We’re not what’s killing the bats; it’s the fungus.”
The Lake States Lumber Association (LSLA), of which Halpin is a board member, agrees. In an Aug. 29, 2014 letter to the USFWS, Lake States Lumber Association President Scott Sawle wrote: “The NLEB thrives in a healthy managed forest. The standing dead and standing live trees which are critical to NLEB habitat needs have significantly increased in just the last 10 years. The restrictions proposed by the FWS will limit forest management activities and negatively affect habitat for the NLEB and other forest dependent species. The FWS should focus its efforts on finding a cure or treatment for White Nose Syndrome, not restricting forest management practices that are essential for providing a variety of forest habitat for the NLEB.”
The Wisconsin DNR estimates that there are 431 forested acres in Richland County that are located in NLEB hibernacula buffers, second only to Iowa County with 695 acres. Crawford County is third with 409 acres. Grant County has 278 forested acres that could be affected by the new rules.
Comments on the proposed rules regarding the Northern Long-Eared Bat are being taken through March 17 on-line at www.regulations.gov Sin the Search box, enter FWS-R5-ES-2011-0024, which is the docket number for this rulemaking. Submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”