It was a batty day at the State Capitol

Northern long-eared bat twoBats and bugs took over the second floor of the Cross Building at the State Capitol today. In one room, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee tackled a bill to list the Northern long-eared bat and other species as endangered or threatened, while in another room, the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee debated responses to the expected infestation of the Spruce budworm in the northern forest. Both issues proved to be contentious.

Today we’ll take a look at the bat bill. Tomorrow I’ll post a report on the budworm issues.

Bats

LD 807 adds five species to the endangered list (Cobblestone tiger beetle, Frigga fritillary, Six-whorl vertigo, Little brown bat, and Northern long-eared bat) and one species to the threatened list (Eastern small-footed bat). LD 807 also changes the status of two species from endangered to threatened (Clayton’s copper, Roaring Brook mayfly) and one species from threatened to endangered (Black-crowned night heron). The bill was submitted by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and sponsored by Senator Tom Saviello.

After Senator Saviello presented the bill, DIF&W’s Deputy Commissioner Andrea Erskine spoke in favor of the proposal, explaining the agency’s process that brought these recommendations forward to the legislature for action.

Northern long-eared bat oneSusan Gallo, a Maine Audubon wildlife biologist, testified, “Maine Audubon is especially concerned about the future of the three bat species proposed for listing. All three species hibernate together in caves, and all have declined dramatically, both in Maine and in the northeast region, since the discovery and spread of the fungus which causes the disease known as White Nose Syndrome. WNS is responsible for the death of more than 5.5 million bats since it was first discovered in a cave in upstate New York.”

Like so many species, it’s what we don’t know that really hurts. “For all three species, a lack of knowledge about breeding habitat is a barrier to management and conservation. Listing will help open doors for much-needed funding opportunities,” said Gallo. She also reported that the population of Northern long-eared bats has dropped by as much as 98 percent in the northeast. Sadly, the other bat species aren’t doing much better.

Others speaking in favor, or submitting testimony of support for the bill, included the Environmental Priorities Coalition

Most Compelling Argument

We were told that a single bat eats up to 1000 mosquitos a night. That’s all I needed to hear to support this bill!

Opposition

Dana Doran, Executive Director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, was the only one who testified in opposition to LD 807. “Let me be clear that the PLC is generally supportive of this bill… however, the PLC is in opposition to the listing of the Little Brown Bat, the Northern Long Eared Bat, and the Eastern small-footed bat as endangered at the current time.”

Doran argued that the “bats are not specific to Maine as they are present throughout the region… the demise of these species is not due to human activity… and the listing, would have an adverse impact upon the logging industry.

Incidental Take Legislation

While LD 807 didn’t seem to draw much opposition, LD 640 proved to be more contentious. The bill would establish a working DIF&W working group to “review the incidental take permitting process under the Endangered Species Laws.” The bill was proposed by the forest products industry and drew opposition from the environmental community.

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Paul Davis, when presenting the bill, noted that he submitted it at the request of the Maine Forest Products Council. Davis noted that “Maine is now considering listing species that are present throughout the region and not restricted to special habitats or locations.” As an example, he used the long-eared bat, “a general habitat species whose decline (white nose syndrome) is not attributable to forestry activities.” If the bat is listed an endangered, testified Davis, “technically loggers and landowners would be in violation of the law if they inadvertently killed a bat while felling a tree.”

Davis said the working group specified in his bill would “explore options for Maine to create a process that recognizes certain species and certain activities identified by IF&W would best be handled using a group permission process.’

MFPC’s executive director, Pat Strauch, took the lead in testifying in favor of the bill. “Under current law each logger would need to get an individual ITP permit for each area they log to be protected from this violation. This is impractical and in other states general permits are used to cover these situations.” Strauch also said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “when it recently announced an interim special rule that eliminates unnecessary regulatory requirements for landowners, land managers, government agencies and others in the range of the northern long-eared bat.”

Don Kleiner, representing the Maine Professional Guides Association, joined in that support, reporting that MPGA “generally supportive of this conversation” and praised the effort to list species of concern and trying to restore those population. He said he thinks a working group would help resolve the issue of concern at this hearing.

Audubon’s testimony

Maine Audubon led the opposition to LD 807, objecting to the fact the bill “proposes a process that uses industry, rather than our own state biologists to guide the ITP process. There is no assurance that the biological needs of the species will be considered.” Audubon also pointed out flaws in the bill’s requirements that “could be interpreted to conclude that the working group is to develop an ITP for all species covering all activities.” Susan Gallo noted that there is no problem with the current ITP process, and that DIF&W wildlife biologists work well and closely with private landowners and those landowners have cooperatively worked with DIF&W to help protect and restore endangered and threatened species.

As an example, they offered the ITP process for Barrow’s Goldeneye. “This species of diving duck was proposed as threatened in 2007. Some of you may remember the fear that hunters that would be prosecuted for mistakenly shooting a Barrow’s Goldeneye when legally pursuing the aptly named Common Goldeneye. Biological concerns for the status of the species in Maine were significant, so the species was listed as threatened.

“MDIFW promptly developed and issued an ITP for hunting Common Goldeneye, and outreach efforts to hunters on the difference between the two species were increased. Hunters that accidentally kill a Barrow’s Goldeneye suffer no penalty when they report it to MDIFW. Thus, Barrow’s Goldeneye receives the benefits of MESA protection, while waterfowl hunters can continue to enjoy their sport without fear of prosecution.”

DIF&W’s Testimony

DIF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock submitted a letter “neither for nor against” LD 640, rather than testify. He wrote, “While the Department has only engaged the Incidental Take Plan provisions of the Maine Endangered Species Act sparingly, it has found the tool to be of general value by adding a component of regulatory flexibility to the environmental review process for those limited cases where a high likelihood of take is deemed unavoidable.”

Woodcock also reported, “There have been no enforcement actions for incidental take or other prohibitions due to negligence under the Maine Endangered Species Act since the Act’s inception,” and, “from the thousands of formal project reviews involving state-listed species, approximately 16 formal ‘incidental take permits’ have been developed since the provision was adopted in 1999. “

Woodcock also noted that “no incidental take plans adopted to date… have addressed forestry or agriculture practices. Only one has involved residential development. Most have involved intensive, large-scale development actions including commercial development, energy infrastructure, and aquatic dam maintenance or removal projects.”

All of the Commissioner’s testimony seemed to indicate that there is no need for this legislation.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.