Forest plan contributes to recovery of the lesser long-nosed bat

This cave-roosting nectar-feeding bat was listed as endangered in 1988, and has just been delisted.   According to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

The primary concern regarding future viability of this subspecies continues to be roost site disturbance or loss. This is primarily an issue related to human activities and destructive actions at these roost sites.

One of the three recovery criteria is “Protect Roost and Forage Plant Habitats.”  In its final delisting rule, the FWS cites the recently revised Coronado National Forest Plan as an existing regulatory mechanism that would protect the species (one of the 5 factors to be considered in listing a species, and a key one for this species):

More than 75 percent of the range of this species in the United States is on federally managed lands and these federal agencies have guidelines and requirements in place to protect lesser long-nosed bats and their habitats, particularly roost sites… If the lesser long-nosed bat is delisted, protection of their roost sites and forage resources will continue on Federal lands because agency land-use plans and general management plans contain objectives to protect cave resources and restrict access to abandoned mines, both of which can be enforced by law enforcement officers. In addition, guidelines in these plans for grazing, recreation, off-road use, fire, etc., will continue to prevent or minimize impacts to lesser long-nosed bat forage resources. The Coronado National Forest’s 2017 Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) includes standards and guidelines to retain and enhance areas with paniculate agaves in order to benefit the lesser long-nosed bat.

Federal land management plans directly address the main threats to the species, providing assurance that improving trends in population numbers would continue, and allowing delisting to be warranted.  Recovery of listed species should be an important goal for plan components in revisions of the rest of the national forest plans.  (Even where the value of a species is not as obvious as being “vital to the tequila industry.”)

6 thoughts on “Forest plan contributes to recovery of the lesser long-nosed bat”

  1. Interesting, considering the Forest has yet to publish an NOA announcing the availability of the Final EIS, Revised Forest Plan and ROD. Under the 1982 regulations, this is required before the plan can be implemented.

  2. I’m glad you brought that up, Mike. My main point was to present this as a good example for forest planning, but there is this other point – that the FWS sometimes plays kind of fast and loose with what is “existing” and what is a “regulatory” mechanism. Here they were apparently under some litigation pressure to get a delisting decision out. And with CBD on board they probably saw a low risk of litigating a premature delisting.

    I have also seen the FWS accept the Forest Service characterization of what the plan says when the plan doesn’t actually say that, especially regarding whether plan components are mandatory or not. The draft revised plan seems to rely on guidelines. It is being prepared under the 1982 planning regulations, which were less specific about the nature of “guidelines,” but the draft revised plan would make them binding in the sense that they must be “as effective in meeting the purpose of the guideline.” So that’s probably ok here.

    What I don’t understand is why components like this one are a guideline and not a standard: “Identified bat roosts should be protected from disturbance during periods of bat occupancy.” When would having the option of NOT protecting them lead to something else that is as effective at meeting the purpose of protecting bats from disturbance? When the plan creates uncertainty it just makes life harder on the agency.

    • The purpose of using a guideline instead of a standard is to provide some additional flexibility. Unlike a standard, deviation from the explicit provisions of a guideline is permitted without a plan amendment, as long as the intent of a guideline is met. So for example, say new bat roosts were discovered adjacent to a popular shooting area. Installing a gate and signage would require noisy equipment that would result in disturbance to the bat roost. In this situation, you could justify the installation of the fence and signage without doing a plan amendment, because the short-term disturbance from the fence/sign installation meets the intent of the guideline to prevent more long-term ongoing disturbance from the ongoing use of the area for shooting.

  3. That’s an interesting example, but I don’t think having a standard would cause a problem. Could the installation occur during periods on non-occupancy? Could short-term protection be provided until then by issuing a closure order for the shooting area? If such alternatives are considered but result in greater harm to the bats than immediate gating, doesn’t that demonstrate that this option actually does “protect bats from disturbance?” (The existing language doesn’t favor short-term over long-term effects.) If that argument won’t work, what is the problem with doing a project-specific amendment; it happens for timber projects all the time. Amendments are part of the 2012 Planning Rule design for adaptive management.

    • John, I think the main difference between a guideline and a standard is that a standard is meant to be taken based on the plain language. It is defined as ,”… an absolute requirement to be met in the design of projects and activities.” We’ve run into a similar situation to the example I described above and whereas with guidelines you could say that even though there would be some short-term disturbance you are still meeting the intent to avoid more invasive disturbance, with a standard that would not matter. The interpretation has been that with a standard there is strict interpretation of the wording, and thus for this example with a standard it would require a plan amendment and with a guideline it would not. Unlike a standard, deviation from the explicit provisions of the guideline is permitted without a plan amendment, as long as the intent of a guideline is met. Often times, this difference (of whether a plan amendment is needed) can be the difference of whether a project happens or not, so it is a rather important difference.

  4. It’s good to hear from someone who must be a practitioner, but you’ve unfortunately confirmed what I’ve seen as a major flaw in the NFMA planning process – aversion to amendments causes mushier plans. Mushier plans may even be seen as a good thing by Forest staff because they are free to use more “professional judgment.” In the extreme, you don’t have a plan. Of course NFMA’s planning requirements were the result of the public disagreeing with the professional judgment of the agency, so there has to be some limit.

    Fortunately for at-risk species there clearly is. The requirement for diversity and species viability must be met by forest plan components. That means the plan can’t just say “we’ll figure it out when we get there.” That kind of language would also not make the regulatory agencies happy for listed species. But I can’t really quibble about “protect the bats.” I just think that saying (as this guideline essentially does) “maybe we’ll protect the bats” raises questions that didn’t need to be raised. This guideline is silent on short-term and long-term tradeoffs, but a well-written standard should directly address how they would be considered.


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