On March 31, 2023, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reclassified the northern long-eared bat (NLEB) from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The change in listing, which came after a two-month delay to allow additional management tools for project proponents to be developed, is driven by the widespread white-nose syndrome, which has devastated populations of this cave-dwelling bat. This change in listing status will require developers to enter into section 7 consultation when activities are expected to impact northern long-eared bats or their habitat and will have major implications for various projects. Wind energy projects and other industry projects which involve tree clearing will likely be most impacted.
Originally listed in 2015 as threatened, the northern long-eared bat was listed as part of the ESA 4(d) rule that minimized the Section 7 consultation necessary for a project’s permitting process. The new endangered listing status removes the 4(d) provision; thus, many activities, such as tree clearing, will not be allowed without consultation and a take permit. In addition to white-nose syndrome, the primary source of mortality, other sources of mortality for northern long-eared bats include wind turbine collisions, summer habitat loss, and winter habitat loss and disturbance during hibernation. Given the declines in northern long-eared bat populations and loss of summer and wintering habitat, projects likely to result in the take of bats or their habitat will have to enter into formal Section 7 consultation under the ESA.
Northern long-eared bat range
Northern long-eared bats have been observed in 37 states and the District of Columbia, including the following: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The Northern long-eared bat also occurs in eight Canadian provinces.
Northern long-eared bat habitat
The northern long-eared bat has two distinct seasonal habitat preferences between winter during hibernation and summer habitat. In the winter, they hibernate within small crevices and cracks in caves and mines that provide constant temperatures, high humidity, and minimal air movement. During the spring, summer, and fall, they roost in forest habitats singly or communally underneath bark, tree cavities, or in crevices of live or dead trees. They will occasionally use human-made structures such as barns and sheds for roosting, as long as there are cracks and crevices to hide.
Northern long-eared bat interim permitting steps
If your project has the potential to impact northern long-eared bat habitat, you will need to enter coordination with the USFWS. Because many development projects have been approved under the old 4(d) rule, the USFWS has created four frameworks to assist project developers with the consultation process during a transition period:
- Northern long-eared bat Range-wide Determination Key: Outlines processes designed to streamline project review and allows automatic verification or concurrence in some situations. Determination keys are available through the IPaC website.
- The Interim Consultation Framework (ICF): This framework is ideal for projects where take is likely to occur before April 1, 2024. The ICF is designed to facilitate the transition from the 4(d) rule under which the northern long-eared bat was previously listed to the Section 7 consultation required under the new endangered listing. It is unclear what will happen after April 1, 2024, regarding this framework, but it will likely be updated or replaced on or before April 1, 2024. This framework only covers actions consistent with the original 4(d) rule and does not include activities such as
– Affecting a hibernaculum– Tree clearing within 0.25 miles (0.4 km) of a hibernaculum– Tree clearing of known maternity roost trees– Purposeful take of northern long-eared bats– Wind energy development– Pesticide application of suitable habitat
- Interim Habitat Modification Guidance: This document provides guidance to project proponents likely to take northern long-eared bats by affecting their habitat. If northern long-eared bats are likely to be impacted, project proponents can decide to write a Habitat Conservation Plan and apply for an Incidental Take Permit. Evaluating the likelihood of impacts is typically done by starting with a presence/probable absence survey to determine if northern long-eared bats occur in the project area.
- Interim Wind Guidance: This framework describes how wind farm operators should minimize impacts on northern long-eared bats and provides recommendations for consultation such as blanket curtailment and potentially smart curtailment.
- If your project was operating under the previous 4(d) rule, you may be able to continue under a similar framework using the Interim Consultation Framework, at least until April 1, 2024. This only covers actions consistent with the original 4(d) rule and does not include activities in #2 above.
- If your project is not operating under the previous 4(d) rule, you will need to determine if your project is within the northern long-eared bat range and if northern long-eared bats are present on site. In this situation, hiring a bat consultant and consulting a local USFWS Ecological Services office is the best approach to determine appropriate action.
- Wind power projects should follow the guidance outlined in the Interim Wind Guidance Document and should consult the USFWS.
 [USFWS] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2022. Species Status Assessment Report for the Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), Version 1.2. August 2022. Bloomington, MN.
 [USFWS] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2023. Northern long-eared bat. Accessed 8 April 2023.