U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to revisit northern long-eared bat listing

 By Laura Bies Posted on February 13, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider its decision to list the northern long-eared bat as threatened rather than endangered under the Endangered Species Act. ©USFWS A federal judge last week ruled on a lawsuit over the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2015 decision to list the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) as threatened rather than endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In 2016, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, along with several other environmental organizations, sued the Service in two separate cases — later consolidated into and ruled on as one — arguing that the northern-long eared bat needs full protection under the ESA as an endangered species. Northern long-eared bats range across the eastern and north-central United States, but white-nose syndrome, a deadly fungal disease, has spread to about 60% of that range. It has caused about a 96% decline of northern long-eared bats in the northeastern portion of its range as of its 2015 listing decision, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 2013, the Service proposed listing the northern long-eared bat as endangered, based on the threat to the species posed by white-nose syndrome. When the proposal was finalized in 2015, the bat was instead listed as threatened. As part of the listing, the Service issued a 4(d) rule that permitted incidental take of the species in states where white-nose syndrome was not present. In last week’s ruling, the federal judge determined that the Service’s decision to list the bat as threatened rather than endangered was not supported by the best available scientific data and that the agency made procedural errors in finalizing the listing. The Service argued that the bats population was stable in areas not affected by white-nose syndrome, so a threatened status was sufficient. The court determined that the agency failed to consider that the bat was not equally distributed across its range and that some areas of the range were in imminent danger of the disease spreading to them. In addition, plaintiffs argued that the Service made the decision to list the bat as threatened before the public comment was closed. The Service declined to respond to this charge, leading the court to accept the plaintiffs’ argument. The court also determined that the agency erred in allowing incidental take through the 4(d) rule, which permitted activities that affected habitat. The agency argued that since the species was primarily threatened by white-nose syndrome, protecting habitat in areas without the disease was unnecessary. But the court ruled that, along with white-nose syndrome, habitat destruction and other threats could cumulatively affect the bats and must be considered. The judge did not vacate the 2015 listing decision but asked the agency to reconsider it. The threatened designation and 4(d) rule will remain in place until a new rule is published; however, the new rule must not include the current 4(d) rule.

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Bats, Coronaviruses, and Zoonotic Disease

Published on January 30, 2020 Written by Admin Bat Conservation International’s FAQ on Bats, Coronaviruses, and Zoonotic Disease

Bat Conservation International is monitoring the news and information about the spreading novel coronavirus (nCoV-2019) that was first detected in Wuhan, China. As bats have become intertwined in the coverage, we are providing this FAQ to help our community and members interpret and navigate the evolving information and understand why bats are mentioned. What caused the nCoV-2019 outbreak? A live wildlife market (sometimes called a ‘wet’ market) in Wuhan, China is believed to be the source of the current nCoV-2019 outbreak. Live wildlife markets are places where live animals, including wildlife harvested both illegally and legally, are stacked closely together in cages and slaughtered and sold for food.

Wildlife species sold at live markets are diverse – including bats, civets, bamboo rats, snakes, birds, and many other species, alongside domestic animals such as chickens, pigs, dogs, etc. The conditions of these wet markets with live animals stacked closely together in stressful and unsanitary conditions increases the chance that viruses can ‘spillover’ from one animal host to another and to humans. (see What is a Zoonotic Disease? below). Currently, we do not know exactly how the nCoV-2019 pathogen jumped from animal to human. Specifically, we do not know whether the viral spillover to humans involved direct contact with a bat or another wild animal sold at live wildlife markets in China. There is also a possibility that viral spillover happened via animal contact outside of the Wuhan market, and was brought into the market by infected people. Why are bats mentioned in the news about Wuhan Coronavirus? Research released on January 23rd, 2020 on bioRxiv.org by Chinese researchers at Wuhan Institute of Virology shows that that nCoV-2019 shares 96% of its genome with SARS-like coronaviruses. Bats, specifically Rhinolophid (Horseshoe) bats in China, are the natural wildlife reservoirs for SARS-like coronaviruses. It is likely that bats are the natural wildlife reservoir of nCoV-2019, even though another “intermediate” species could have been involved with direct transmission to people. Bats carrying coronaviruses in the wild undisturbed by people are not a threat to human health. The NY Times published this opinion piece explaining why bats carry so many viruses and why more research is so important. What is a zoonotic disease and what is a spillover event? A zoonotic disease is a disease that spreads from an animal population to humans. A pathogen (for example a specific type of virus or bacteria) may occur naturally in a ‘reservoir’ animal population with little to no ill effect on the animals carrying it. A spillover event occurs when the pathogen is transmitted to a novel host, such as another animal species or directly to humans. Pathogen spillover into novel hosts can sometimes cause a disease outbreak in the new host, and could also lead to rapid mutation or increased virulence. These spillover events usually require close contact with bodily fluids of animals in unsanitary conditions. How are conservation and global health vitally linked? Live animal markets and trafficking in wild animals is at the heart of this global health threat. The Wildlife Conservation Society issued a position statement calling for the closure of all live markets in China. There is a temporary ban on live markets in China, but without a permanent closure, the risk remains for future spillover events. As David Quammen entitled in his New York Times opinion piece on January 28th: “We made the Coronavirus Epidemic”. Specifically, we made it by engaging in unsustainable ecological destruction and the dangerous and devastating trafficking and illegal trade of wildlife for human consumption. Dr. Kevin Olival at EcoHealth Alliance points to closing and cleaning up wildlife markets as a win-win solution in an article in National Geographic: “One intervention, which is fairly simple, is reducing the wildlife trade and cleaning up the wildlife markets. Cutting back the wildlife trade has a win-win effect of both protecting species that are harvested from the wild and of reducing spillover of new viruses.” How is bat research important for human health? Studying zoonotic disease, including identifying wildlife reservoirs for pathogens, increases our understanding and ability to predict and prevent zoonotic spillover events. The virology, immunology, and ecology of bats is of crucial importance to developing strategies to inform conservation and global human health outcomes. Furthermore, studying bat immunology can help us understand our own immune systems and ways to fight diseases. What is One Health? The One Health approach recognizes that public health is inextricably linked to healthy environments. “One Health is defined as a collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach — working at the local, regional, national, and global levels — with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.” – CDC website

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Michigan Governor Vetoes of Bad Deer Management Bill

December 23, 2019 | by National Deer Alliance

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer vetoed House Bill 4687, which would have removed the Natural Resources Commission’s authority to regulate deer baiting and feeding. More specifically, baiting and feeding bans in the state’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas core chronic wasting disease (CWD) areas will remain in effect. Governor Whitmer stated, “I remain fully committed to protecting Michigan’s wildlife, public health, and agriculture jobs,” and added, “This legislation would’ve increased the chance of spreading wildlife disease within wildlife populations and the beef and dairy industries, which are vital to Michigan’s economy. That’s not a risk we can afford to take.” Opponents of the baiting and feeding ban say that it puts unnecessary restrictions on Michigan hunters, and have vowed to continue fighting what they describe as over-regulation of hunting in the state. “We can understand the frustration among hunters who like to feed deer and hunt over bait, but when it comes to slowing the spread of CWD, we support the difficult decisions that state wildlife professionals across the country have to sometimes make,” said NDA president and CEO, Nick Pinizzotto. He added, “The last thing anyone wants to do is limit opportunities for sportsmen, but this is a matter of doing what’s best for the herd and deer hunters over the long haul, and the best available science supports it.” According to the Michigan Constitution, the veto can be overturned by a two-thirds vote by both the State House and Senate, and the legislature has until the end of 2020 to take such action. NDA supports scientifically supported practices that slow the spread of CWD for the long-term benefit of deer, hunters, and the hunting industry, but does not oppose baiting as a general hunting practice. NDA also feels strongly that decisions for managing wildlife be left in the capable hands of trained and experienced professionals within state and federal wildlife management agencies.

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DNR study seeks farm chemical levels in wild deer

 By Tony Kennedy Star Tribune OCTOBER 29, 2019 —  DAVID JOLES – STAR TRIBUNE

Are white-tailed deer susceptible to carrying a common farmland chemical in their systems? Research says it’s possible. Minnesota deer hunters will be tapped as volunteers next month in a wildlife research project to assess levels of neonicotinoid insecticides in free-ranging deer. The pilot study by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was inspired by a university research project in South Dakota that found bad effects when captive whitetails were exposed to the widely used farm chemicals. Decreased fawn survival, reduced physical activity, smaller reproductive organs and jaw abnormalities were recorded in deer that were given significantly higher concentrations of “neonics” than other deer in the South Dakota State University study. Minnesota’s inquiry is meant to measure the relative prevalence of the chemicals inside deer and will focus on deer harvested all around the state in conjunction with the firearms season that opens Nov. 9. “We are looking for help from anybody and everybody who wants to be involved,’’ said Eric Michel, DNR’s newly hired deer biologist for the farmland region. The DNR’s goal is to obtain at least 800 spleens from hunter-harvested deer, equally divided in deer permit areas with low, medium, and high row crop density. The agency is supplying a sampling kit and video instructions to participating hunters. They’ll learn how to recognize and remove the spleen — a large, flat, dark red stomach organ shaped like a cat’s tongue. Michel, who worked on the recent South Dakota study as a postdoctoral researcher, said the initial phase in Minnesota will be to map baseline levels of neonicotinoids in the wild herd. The toxic insect killer, widely applied to corn and soybean seeds as a coating, has become so pervasive in the environment that it might even show up in Minnesota’s forested deer, Michel said. “We’re expecting to find it, but we don’t know at what levels,’’ he said. In South Dakota, captive female whitetails and fawns that were given increased levels of the pesticide did not feed or move as often as other deer. Concentrations of the chemical were “significantly higher” in fawns that died versus fawns that survived. Chemically exposed fawns that lived, were smaller and less healthy than fawns in the control group, “As concentrations increased, we saw decreased activity,’’ researchers wrote. Michel said the captive animal test facility in Brookings, where the research was conducted, was adjacent to corn and soybean fields. Even members of the control group of deer — those who weren’t dosed with the chemicals — were found to have neonics in their systems, Michel said. Deformities found in dosed whitetails included overbites and smaller than normal reproductive organs, the study found. The study was published earlier this year in the journal Scientific Reports. Co-author Jonathan Jenks, a professor and wildlife ecologist at SDSU, is helping out on the Minnesota study. Neonicotinoids have received lots of scientific attention in relation to the decline of bees and other pollinators. And in Minnesota, DNR wildlife researcher Charlotte Roy recently published trail camera observations of pheasants, other birds, raccoons and other mammals eating crop seeds dropped on farm fields in simulated spills or in simulated plantings where the seeds weren’t completely covered by dirt. Her report said ingestion of a small number of coated corn or soybean seeds can be lethal to small birds. She observed over a dozen species of birds and mammals feeding on the spills. She wrote that the presence of seeds on soil surfaces should be considered in pesticide risk assessments. For the neonic study on Minnesota deer, volunteers are urged to sign up before the hunting season by using the following online address: https://forms.gle/qE4FaxxJwo4oqkuU8 Michel said participants can also collect a tooth from their deer. The DNR will pay to have the tooth tested to detail its age and the results will be reported back to the hunter along with the level of neonicotinoid exposure that was found.

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Endangered Species Overreach A new rule won’t put more fish and wildlife at risk

 By The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Aug. 16, 2019 6:51 pm ET

A polar bear keeps close to her young along the Beaufort Sea coast in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. PHOTO: HANDOUT ./REUTERS

Perhaps you’ve been reading that the Trump Administration wants to make it easier to eliminate polar bears, spotted owls and other species from the face of the earth. As ever in Donald Trump ’s Washington, the reality is different, so allow us to explain. The uproar concerns a proposed new rule to revise some practices under the 1973 Endangered Species Act. For all the praise liberals shower on that law, it has achieved far less than advertised. A 2018 report from the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Gordon found that since 1973 the ESA has helped to recover only 40 species, and nearly half of those were mistakenly listed in the first place. Meanwhile, the law has become a legal weapon to strip property rights and block millions of acres from private development. Congress ought to rewrite the ESA but can’t break a partisan impasse. So this week Interior Secretary David Bernhardt tried to clarify regulation under the law to prevent abuses. The new rule restores Congress’s original two-tiered approach, killing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “blanket rule” that treated “endangered” and “threatened” species alike. This will devote scarce government dollars—and landowner attention—to the species most at risk. It will also provide states more flexibility to assist species that are struggling though not seriously endangered. The new rules clarify vague terms such as “the foreseeable future” to mean only as far as the government can “reasonably determine” a danger of extinction. This will make it harder for activists to use claims of vague future climate damage to declare many more species endangered. And the rules remind regulators they must use the same five criteria in deciding whether to delist a species as they did when listing one—destruction of habitat or range; overutilization; disease; inadequate regulation; or other natural or manmade factors. This will guard against special interests that move the goalposts every time a recovered population is proposed to be cleared. Another reform would limit the use of “critical habitat” designations that tie up tens of millions of acres of U.S. land. The rules reinstate a requirement that agencies first evaluate acreage that contain the at-risk species before considering new, unoccupied areas. Agencies also must prove that unoccupied critical habitat contains “one or more of the physical or biological features essential to the species’ conservation.”

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