Article by Jonelle Kimbrough, Communications Coordinator, Army Reserve Sustainability Programs
and Veronda Johnson, Environmental Protection Specialist, Army Reserve Command
Bats are critical to our nation’s ecology and economy. They consume tons of insects every night and pollinate numerous food plants, thus providing a natural benefit to farmers, foresters and consumers. In fact, some research indicates that bats provide at least $3 billion in economic value annually. However, a deadly disease is decimating populations of the northern long-eared Bat (NLEB) in the United States and prompting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to protect these important creatures. As a federal entity, the Army Reserve is also tasked with their conservation – a responsibility that the 88th Regional Support Command is heeding to protect military operations as well as our flying friends.
The NLEB is found in several Army Reserve regions, primarily in the 88th and 99th RSCs and in a more limited range in the 81st and 63rd RSCs. It is also one of the seven bat species impacted by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has caused the deaths of millions of bats in the northeast. Some affected bat populations have experienced a 99 percent mortality rate.
Due to significant population declines caused by the spread of white-nose syndrome throughout the United States and Canada, the USFWS announced that it is protecting the NLEB as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973.
The presence of threatened and endangered species on military installations can have potentially major impacts on the environment and the mission. Species losses can cause devastating ecological imbalances, and “significant use restrictions could be applied by the USFWS and enforced under the ESA if the 88th RSC is not compliant with federal laws” surrounding these species, explained Marshal Braman, an environmental protection specialist and Versar contractor with the 88th RSC.
In an effort to prevent those restrictions, the 88th RSC completed an informal Section 7 consultation for Indiana bats with the USFWS, which resulted in the 2013 preparation and approval of an Endangered Species Management Component (ESMC). In the ESMC, which was revised last year to include the NLEB, the Army Reserve determined and the USFWS concurred that military operations “may affect but are not likely to adversely affect” bat populations. Military training, aircraft operations and recreation are covered for all locations. Other activities including the use of smoke or obscurants, forest management, prescribed burning, pest management and construction also continue but with the implementation of conservation measures that will prevent “take” of the NLEB, which is defined by the ESA as “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture or collect any endangered species.”
Fortunately, white-nose syndrome has not yet been detected throughout the entire range of the NLEB. And, bats and Soldiers have been living in harmony thus far. “Most training activities are on different time schedules from the bats, so there is minimal potential interaction,” Braman commented. Bats are most active at dawn and dusk and during the night, but nearly all training normally occurs during the day.
In the event that a NLEB roost tree is encountered on the training area, Soldiers are to identify its location, immediately cease all activities within a 150 foot radius of the tree and report their observations to natural resources personnel, who will then provide direction regarding continued activities, use of the immediate area and subsequent actions.
“The 88th RSC will follow the established measures outlined in the ESMC to avoid potential impacts to the bats and maintain suitable habitat for their continued use,” Braman said.
The Army is considered a leader in the efforts to protect our natural world and the rare plants, insects and animals with whom we share our military installations.
The programmatic approach between the USFWS and the 88th RSC to protect a once common bat can serve as a model for future actions, and it will ensure the protection of wide-range species and the conservation of the lands and resources that directly support the men and women who defend our freedom.