On February 3, 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released new draft protocol guidelines titled, “Rangewide Indiana Bat Summer Survey Guidance” for conducting surveys of Indiana bats. The agency is accepting comments on the protocol until March 2, 2012. The new Guidance would result in a survey protocol which would replace the protocol in effect since 2007.
The Indiana bat has been listed as an endangered species since 1967. The bats are found over most of the eastern half of the U.S. The bat gets its name from the fact that approximately half of them hibernate in caves in southern Indiana each winter. Although they have been known to occasionally hibernate in abandoned mines, the coal mining industry’s main concern is where they spend their summer months. After hibernation, Indiana bats migrate to their summer habitat in wooded areas where they usually roost under loose tree bark on dead or dying trees. It is not unusual for the Indiana bat to be found roosting in trees on surface mine sites in the Appalachian region.
Under the old 2007 protocol, “The Indiana Bat Mist-Netting Guidelines,” when timbering activities were conducted at mine between May 15 and August 15, a mist net (mist nets are very fine mesh nets stretched between two poles approximately 7 meters high and 20 meters wide that have a very low visibility) was placed over a stream or logging trail.
The newly proposed protocol is more complicated, though not necessarily more burdensome in all cases. It consists of four phases of surveys, each dependent upon positive results of the prior phase:
Phase 1- Habitat Assessments;
Phase 2- Acoustic Surveys;
Phase 3- Mist-net Surveys; and
Phase 4- Radio-tracking and Emergence Surveys.
Habitat assessment under the new protocol is explained using the following flow chart:
Under the new habitat assessment provision, the proposed timbering site must be assessed to determine whether it could be a suitable summer habitat for the Indiana bat. Suitable summer habitat includes roosting, foraging, and commuting areas. Suitable summer roosting habitat is characterized by the presence of exfoliating bark, cracks, or crevices in trees (alive or dying) or snags that are > 33 inches diameter-at-breast height (dbh). Foraging habitat consists of forested patches, wooded riparian corridors, and natural vegetation adjacent to these habitats. Commuting habitat includes wooded tracts, tree-lines, wooded hedgerows, streams or other such pathways that are within or connected to roosting or foraging areas.
If the site is a suitable summer habitat, and all adverse effects cannot be avoided, the operator must proceed to Phase 2 acoustic surveys. Acoustic surveys consist of setting a type of recording device capable of picking up the bats’ echolocation calls within a specified area. The flow chart for Phases 2 through 4 is provided below:
The downside of this new approach is that it is has the potential to be more burdensome by resulting in additional steps. Additionally, acoustic monitoring is, according to FWS, a more accurate survey method for excluding the presence of the bat than mist netting. Thus, the new protocol could result in more detections of the Indiana bat. The possible upside is that the presence of the Indiana bat may, in many situations, be excluded without need for resort to the four total nights of mist netting required under the 2007 protocol.
A copy of the draft guidance can be found at: http://www.fws.gov/midwest/Endangered/mammals/inba/DraftINBASurveyGuidanceFeb2012.html. It remains to be seen how the final protocol will impact energy production in the Appalachian region.
This article was authored by Chris M. Hunter, Jackson Kelly PLLC. For more information on the author see here.