GUEST OPINION: Black Hills future uncertain due to long-eared bat | TSLN.com

GUEST OPINION: Black Hills future uncertain due to long-eared bat

Senator John Thune
R-South Dakota

Hundreds of different wildlife species call the Black Hills National Forest home. Bison, deer, elk, coyotes, and antelope are all part of the vast array of wildlife that make the Black Hills a unique place to visit. Among the lesser-known wildlife species that call the Black Hills their home is the northern long-eared bat.

Unfortunately, northern long-eared bats are dying at alarming rates in parts of the country. Researchers have determined that the leading cause of death among northern long-eared bats is a disease in certain areas of the country known as white-nose syndrome. While this disease has been found in 22 states across the country, it has not been detected in South Dakota.

In 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) reached a secret sue-and-settle agreement with two radical environmental groups resulting in endangered species listing determinations for more than 250 species across the United States, including the northern long-eared bat. Despite the lack of evidence suggesting white nose syndrome exists in our state, if the FWS chooses to list the northern long-eared bat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) it would likely institute a number of restrictive measures in the Black Hills to "preserve" the long-eared bats' habitat, including severely limiting active forest management.

Active forest management is critical to combating the spread of pine beetles, preventing forest fires, and cultivating a healthy forest in the Black Hills. Maintaining forest health isn't just for the purpose of preserving the beauty and majesty of this treasured area of our state, but also represents an important sector of our state's business interests. The FWS's proposed forest management restrictions would significantly curtail the timber industry in the Black Hills at a cost of more than 1,500 jobs and $119 million in lost revenue to local economies. Additionally, widespread forest fires or pine beetle advances could jeopardize the state's second largest industry, tourism; and ironically destroy the habitat of the species it is trying to protect under the listing.

After working closely with the Black Hills communities and timber industry, I introduced a bill on March 4 to prevent the FWS from listing the northern long-eared bat under the ESA. Since learning of the potential listing late last year, I have been actively engaging with the FWS and stakeholders to prevent these unintended consequences from impacting the Black Hills, including sending two separate letters calling on the FWS to stand down on its listing of the long-eared bat and resulting misguided forest management policies.

Limiting forest management practices due to listing the long-eared bat as endangered is unnecessary, reckless, and irresponsible. Rather than limiting active forest management in the Black Hills, the FWS should be focusing its efforts on eradicating white-nose syndrome. Over the past 10 years, no wildlife species has been listed by the FWS naming disease as a primary cause, which makes listing the long-eared bat even more questionable. I will continue working with my colleagues in the Senate to stop the FWS's ESA listing, and advocate for common-sense policies that protect the forest and the animals that call it home.