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St. Louis County to add logging regulations to protect endangered bat

A bat at the Soudan Mine with white nose syndrome in 2016.

by Parker Loew

In February, northern long-eared bats will gain new federal protections that impact loggers in St. Louis County.

The long-eared bats, placed on the endangered species list in November under the Biden administration, has lost 95% of its population in Minnesota over the last five years due to an invasive foreign fungus.

Bats are critical to a functioning ecosystem, especially in Minnesota, where mosquitos and other invasive insects need to be kept in check.

Insect-eating bats provide pest control that save the U.S. agriculture industry over $3 billion per year. With help from loggers and forest management professionals, Minnesota hopes to bring the northern long-eared back from the brink of extinction.

The principal cause of this decline is a foreign fungus that causes a condition in bats known as white-nose syndrome.

White-nose syndrome has taken only a few years to kill most of Minnesota’s northern long-eared bat population. The fungus infects the bats in winter when they slow their immune system to save energy during hibernation.

Scientists believe that the fungus is transmitted primarily from bat to bat and takes place when the bats hibernate together in large caves or mines. They encounter each other as they go into hibernation, spreading the fungus right before their immune systems slow.

The fungus grows on the faces and wings of bats and looks like a white, fuzzy moss. The fungus inhibits the release of carbon dioxide through their wings during hibernation and causes the bats to wake up to lick themselves clean to release the carbon dioxide.

Waking up from hibernation causes the bats to lose valuable calories. They consequently can starve to death. The bats often fly out of the caves or mines to look for insects in the dead of winter in one last desperate attempt to obtain calories.

One of the largest hibernating grounds for bats in Minnesota is the Soudan Underground Mine near Ely. The mine has lost an estimated 97% of the bat population over the last decade due to the fungus.

Many loggers and forest management workers question how regulations involving logging will do anything to stop mortality in Minnesota’s bat population since white-nose syndrome affects bats during hibernation when they are underground and not in trees.

Mike Forsman Jr. of Ely, executive director of The ACLT (Associated Contract Loggers and Truckers of Minnesota), is one of those people. Forsman’s association is composed of over 200 timber industry companies working together for the prosperity of the entire industry in Minnesota and the US.

“They’re going to have the taxpayer pay the bill. There will be more time in the woods, more delays, more money.” Forsman said.

Forsman expressed concern that the new regulations would pressure logging companies to harvest more in a shorter period, which could lead to issues in the industry, such as safety and not meeting quotas.

Forsman said that “Everybody is waiting” for the regulations. He ended by saying that “We all want the wildlife to survive and thrive. We all want healthy forests.”

Another logger concerned about what the regulations will be is the executive director of the American Loggers Council, Scott Dane.

He believes that there will likely be negative impacts on the timber industry in the United States from the new regulations.

Dane said that this is nothing new for loggers. He remembers how loggers and the whole forest industry suffered the consequences of spotted owl listing.

Dane thinks that the northern long-eared bat will be weaponized to destruct and litigate to the detriment of forest management and believes the species to be the “next spotted owl.”

Many loggers and timber industry professionals were impacted by the spotted owl when it became federally protected on the west coast. Many lost their jobs.

While loggers and truckers are concerned about the regulations coming down the pike, Jason Meyer, deputy land and minerals director in St. Louis County, seemed much less worried.

Meyer helps manage just under 900,000 acres of land in St. Louis County, and his department facilitates the timber harvests in the region. He had the inside scoop to the regulations that will likely be implemented.

Meyer says that the county will likely need to apply for and receive incidental take permits from the state to continue logging.

An incidental take permit would allow loggers to continue logging even though it might result in the killing of an endangered or threatened species. The incidental take permit has ordinances that must be adhered to, such as preparation by the county of a conservation plan for the bat species.

The conservation plan has been written up in the event the state issues the take permits. To be able to log in the county, loggers would not be allowed to log within 150 feet of known bat roosts and not within a quarter mile of hibernating areas for the bats.

While Meyer was confident the new regulations under the conservation plan would not impact loggers and forest management professionals in a major way, he did admit that “there will be some learning curves.”

Meyer believes they (the county) are sitting in a good place on the forestry end of things knowing that the conservation plan is in the works.

Whether or not the conservation plan will help save the northern long-eared bat population will have to wait to be seen.

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