Construction delays are not uncommon in the A/E/C industry. They can be caused by the climate, change in project scope, design changes, subcontractors, etc. None of these causes are out of the ordinary but one fairly new cause of delays might strike you as odd, which is the northern long-eared bat (NLEB). The northern long eared bat is federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. (according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) (USFWS) Threatened species are animals and plants that are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future. Because the northern long-eared bat is listed as a threatened species, it is afforded the protections of the Act and also increases the priority of the species for funds, grants, and recovery opportunities. Since the northern long-eared bat is found in 37 states from the Atlantic Coast westward to eastern Montana and Wyoming (according to USFWS), this species and the protection of it has caused problems when it comes to development of land and construction.
If a developer wants to build within the NLEB mating season, what steps do they need to take to do so?
“The USFWS maintains an on-line test on their website to determine if the proposed activity requires a permit. Additionally, you can call the local Ecological Services office of the USFWS for a site specific consultation. In some states where the NLEB is the only regulated bat, most activities will likely not adversely affect the species, provided no hibernacula or roost trees are present on the parcel. Consult with a qualified biologist if necessary to obtain a best professional judgment memo for the project.”
If approved, what steps are taken next to ensure the design minimizes the environmental impact for the bats? (thus avoiding the need to revise the project later in development)
“Project specific design attributes will be cited in the permit correspondence if your project requires an authorization. Most commonly, the USFWS will send a clearance letter signifying the project does not require a permit. Such letters include recommendations regarding seasonal limitations for habitat clearing.”
What problems have you faced when dealing with the bat’s habitats?
“Regulation of the NLEB began in May 2015. Because the bat is a generalist (meaning they eat whatever they can catch), protected critical habitats include any tree or shrub 3-inches caliper or larger at breast height when the project is located within the regulated buffer zone. Buffer zones are established within 150 miles of any known hibernacula where the NLEB is present with evidence of the White Nose Syndrome (This syndrome is the reason these bats are in trouble. No other threat is as severe and immediate as this disease.) For most projects, the project owner requesting the environmental assessment has completed NLEB assessment studies to quantify the type of habitat present and the proximity to known high quality NLEB habitat.”
What are the financial costs of these problems?
“No financial information is available yet, but project activities will be severely hampered if hibernacula is present on or adjacent to the project site.”
“By default, USFWS recommends clearing be limited to the November 1 through March 31 period in most states, provided you receive a clearance letter from their agency. The most crucial months of protection in the Midwest USA is June 1 through July 31, the lactating period for the bat while roosting in trees and shrubs.”
Are there locations where development is protected? (Meaning, no matter the date, you cannot build)
“The USFWS has not published any mandatory exclusion zones in the Midwest USA, but regulations severely limit project disturbance within 1000 feet of roost trees and known hibernacula.”