Proposal to reclassify bat might haunt area farmers

Staff Reporter

HARRISBURG, Pa. (Sept. 30, 2014) — Pennsylvania and national Farm Bureau representatives are protesting the addition of a common bat to the endangered species list, claiming the designation could mean new restrictions and hefty penalties for farmers in 38 states, including the Delmarva region.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed protecting the Northern Long-Eared Bat due to a fungal infection called White Nose Syndrome that experts believe has killed about six million of them across the nation in two years, according to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing in the state capital Sept. 8 to examine issues related to the species’ protection, including the potential impact on farming and forestry.
“What is refreshing about this whole thing [is that] in this case no one is blaming farming,” said Mark O’Neil, Farm Bureau spokesman. “People are concerned that these bats are getting sick and dying.”
State Farm Bureau advocates told the panel that adding the bat to the list could impact a number of industries and agricultural activities including the application of pesticides, insecticides and herbicides and timber harvesting.
The bat also makes its home in trees, cabins, barns, bridges and sheds across the state, which poses additional issues for farmers.
“Let’s say you had an old farm building you wanted to tear down,” O’Neil said. “Potentially, you wouldn’t be able to do that because if you did that you might displace bats. … We don’t want to get involved with those questions. … Farmers have enough to worry about on a daily basis.”
The federal government must decide by 2016 whether to include the bat species and 756 other species as threatened or endangered due to a 2011 closed-door settlement between the Fish and Wildlife Service and two environmental groups.
“As a farmer, I believe that using both common sense and science is a logical way to approach not just farming, but regulations,” Jeff Brubaker, a member of the Farm Bureau’s board of directors, said during testimony, according to a committee statement. “It seems to me that this proposal to list the Northern Long-Eared Bat is flawed from both a scientific and common sense perspective. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes that human activities have not had an appreciable effect on the species to date, why would we focus on human-induced impacts to try to slow population decline? It just doesn’t make sense.”
A violation of the endangered species list carries civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation and criminal penalties up to $50,000 and one year of imprisonment per violation, the Farm Bureau said.
A final decision on the bat’s addition to the list could be made within the next several months, a committee statement said.