NRECA is working to ensure electric cooperatives can continue routine maintenance of their rights of way if the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides to list the northern long-eared bat as an endangered species.

Electric co-ops have long followed reasonable conservation practices for the bat as a threatened species that balances with their mission of providing reliable, affordable electricity. Many co-ops currently implement measures that protect a variety of bat species, including vegetation trimming in the early spring to limit impacts to the still-hibernating bats. NRECA is forming a member workgroup to respond to the latest proposal from FWS.

“While we understand the service’s obligation to protect the bat, we are concerned about the implications an endangered designation could have on vegetation management activities that are critical to co-ops’ ability to safely and reliably serve their members,” said NRECA Regulatory Issue Adviser Elise Laarman.

“Northern long-eared bats tend to roost under the bark of dead trees, which can be in so-called ‘hazard trees’ located along utility rights-of-way. NRECA is advocating for balanced federal policies that protect species while continuing to allow co-ops to safely and quickly remove hazardous vegetation that could fall on power lines and cause outages or fires.”

The FWS proposal to reclassify the bat as endangered identified several human activities that could be deemed harmful to the species and may have to be curtailed or require a permit, including:

• Grading, leveling, burning, herbicide spraying, destroying or modifying forest habitat in ways that could kill the bat or hinder its breeding, foraging or “other essential life functions.”

• Removing or destroying trees and structures where the bats roost.

• Building and operating wind energy turbines within the bat’s range that results in the species’ death.

The FWS held a public listening session on April 7 and will accept public comment on its proposal until May 23. A final listing decision is expected by November.

The northern long-eared bat was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2015 as threatened with provisions to incentivize conservation activities and streamline the regulatory process when minor impacts occurred. An endangered listing would remove those provisions and apply all prohibitions allowed under the law.

According to the FWS, data indicate that white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease, is decimating the species faster than expected across its 37-state range, moving the bat toward extinction. Later this year, the agency plans to release status reviews of the disease’s impact on the little brown bat and the tricolor bat to determine if these species require ESA protections.