- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - Listing the northern long-eared bat as threatened is a misguided approach to addressing the mammal’s decline, members of South Dakota’s congressional delegation believe.

The state won’t immediately be affected by the new protective measures, but Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds and Rep. Kristi Noem, all Republicans, worry about potential harm to the Black Hills timber industry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday announced its decision to list the bat as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The move comes in response to the spread of a deadly fungal disease called white-nose syndrome that has killed millions of the bats. The agency says the bats play a key role in insect control and are “a critical component of our nation’s ecology and economy.”

Thune said the agency’s restrictions on forest management do “not focus on the real problem, which is that northern long-eared bat deaths are due to white-nose syndrome, not habitat loss.” Rounds called it “another example of federal overreach by this administration.”

Protective measures will improve the bats’ breeding opportunities by restricting some logging and tree removal from forest areas where the bats spend the warmer months, Fish and Wildlife said.

White-nose syndrome has been confirmed or suspected in 28 of the 37 states where the bats live. It has not yet been found in South Dakota, and the state won’t immediately be affected by the new protective measures.

“While I am relieved to see South Dakota land outside the buffer zone for now, I remain concerned that the Fish and Wildlife Service continues to elevate an unproven environmental agenda rather (than) keeping the focus on a disease that truly jeopardizes the long-eared bat’s population in certain areas of the county,” Noem said.

If the disease ever is detected in South Dakota, it could hurt the Black Hills timber industry, which employs about 1,500 people and generates an estimated $119 million in revenue annually, the delegation said.

The Black Hills Forest Resource Association, a trade group whose members include logging companies, praised the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to exempt South Dakota’s habitat but also said in a statement that there is concern about possible future restrictions.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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