Capito, GOP colleagues successfully garner delay in up-listing date for endangered bat

Concerns expressed by U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and 11 of her Republican colleagues helped convince the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to delay the effective date of a final rule related to a reclassification of the northern long-eared bat.

The FWS decision, published in the Jan. 26 Federal Register, delays the effective date of a final rule it published on Nov. 30, 2022, up-listing the northern long-eared bat as an endangered species rather than a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. 

“This delay is necessary for the [FWS] to finalize conservation tools and guidance documents to avoid confusion and disruption with members of the public who would be regulated by the rule and federal agencies in the implementation of section 7 of the Act,” the FWS said, noting that the rule’s effective date will be moved from Jan. 30 to March 31.

Prior to the FWS announcement, Sen. Capito and her colleagues sent a Jan. 24 letter to FWS Director Martha Williams noting their concerns about the impact the final rule’s effective date would have on current and future infrastructure projects across the country.

Specifically, they wrote, many infrastructure projects will require federal agencies and project sponsors to consult with the FWS on potential impacts to northern long-eared bats (NLEB) and their habitat, “even though these projects and developments have little contributing impact to the decline of the species.”

“We are deeply concerned that the up-listing of the NLEB, when combined with the current [FWS consultation] backlogs, will impede the historic investment Congress made in the IIJA [Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act] if flexibility and efficiency are not addressed by the Service prior to the final rule going into effect on Jan. 30, 2023,” wrote Sen. Capito and her colleagues.

The senators also pointed out that FWS has said there is no cure for the white-nose syndrome, a fungal pathogen that invades the skin of the bats and which is currently responsible for killing off large numbers of them.

“These projects and developments have little contributing impact to the decline of the species, and most mitigation measures will do little to nothing to combat” white-nose syndrome, they wrote. “As the Service admits, there are currently ‘no proven measures to reduce the severity of WNS.’”  

Sen. Capito and her fellow lawmakers also wrote that the up-listing of the NLEB provides a key example for the need to consider reforms to the Endangered Species Act. 

“We believe it is time we have a discussion on ways we can update the statute to address situations like the current one we face, as well as find innovative ways to recover and protect species while providing timely project consultations,” they wrote.

Among the 11 lawmakers who joined Sen. Capito in signing the letter were U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), John Hoeven (R-ND), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).