Lakes States Forest Management Bat Habitat Conservation Plan

Northern long-eared bat in cave.

August 2022 Update – The Lake States Forest Management Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (Bat HCP) has been posted on the Federal Register

On August 29, 2022, the Lake States Forest Management Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (Bat HCP) along with its associated Environmental Assessment (EA) was posted by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) on the Federal Register for a 30-day public comment period. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that the USFWS conduct a public review process of HCPs prior to issuing an Incidental Take Permit (ITP). Additional information about the environmental review process, including public involvement opportunities, can be found on the USFWS Lake States Forest Management Bat HCP webpage.

Comments on the Bat HCP and the EA must be submitted directly to the USFWS (not to the state DNRs) by one of the following methods:

  • Online at the Federal Regulations webpage.
  • Mail to Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. FWS-R3-ES-2022-0091; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 5275 Leesburg Pike, MS: PRB/3W; Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.

For more detail, see the instructions provided in the Federal Register notice.

After the public comment period closes, feedback will be considered by the Bat HCP steering committee, USFWS, and leadership of the participating DNRs, and the Bat HCP will be finalized with the USFWS.

HCP Development and Implementation Timeline

The Minnesota DNR anticipates being issued an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) this coming fall (2022).

Bat populations are rapidly declining due to the fungal disease white-nose syndrome, and one or more species may soon be reclassified as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. In the event that one or more bat species is reclassified as endangered, direct harm to individuals of an endangered species is prohibited by the Endangered Species Act. The DNR is committed to the conservation of Minnesota’s wildlife and forest ecosystems, and by managing for healthy forest habitat, we can help Minnesota’s imperiled bat populations. In partnership with the Wisconsin DNR and Michigan DNR, we are developing a Lake States Forest Management Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (Bat HCP). While unintended impacts to individual bats may result during forest management activities, the states will support the recovery of the bat species and conserve bat habitat through the implementation of the Bat HCP. The biological objectives outlined in the Bat HCP and implemented by the states will offset any unintended impacts to individual bats and will benefit bat species populations as well as individuals.

This webpage will keep you informed on the status of the Bat HCP and share opportunities for involvement.

What is a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)?

An HCP is a mechanism for compliance with ESA for a given set of activities and protected species. This HCP describes the potential positive and negative impacts of forest management on bats and details biological objectives to offset forest management impacts on bats. An HCP is required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as part of an application for an incidental take permit (ITP). An ITP will ensure forest management activities in endangered bat habitat can continue without additional consultation with USFWS.

The DNRs for Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan are developing the HCP to provide a plan and compliance strategy for the sustainable forest management activities performed as land administrators. Other eligible non-federal public or private landowners may be able to have their forest lands covered by the provisions of the Bat HCP through a Landowner Enrollment Program. Landowners have the option to develop their own HCP or other Endangered Species Act compliance strategy through the USFWS, if desired. The USFWS Habitat Conservation Plans website has more information about HCPs.

How to get involved?

The Bat HCP and its associated Environmental Assessment (EA) are available for public comment on the Federal Register through September 28, 2022. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that the USFWS conducts a public review process of HCPs prior to issuing an Incidental Take Permit (ITP). Comments on the HCP and the EA must be submitted directly to the USFWS using the instructions provided in the Federal Register notice. After the NEPA review, feedback will be considered by the Bat HCP steering committee, USFWS, and leadership of the participating DNRs, and the Bat HCP will be finalized with the USFWS. 

After the public comment period, the Minnesota DNR anticipates being issued an ITP this coming fall. Once the ITP is in place, eligible non-federal public or private forest landowners may be able to have their forest lands covered by the provisions of the Bat HCP through a Landowner Enrollment Program. Landowners will also have the option to develop their own HCP or other Endangered Species Act compliance strategy through the USFWS, if desired.

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What should I know?
  • Fast-spreading white-nose syndrome is increasing the likelihood that the federally threatened northern long-eared bat and other bat species will be reclassified as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in the near future. On March 22, 2022, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced a proposal to reclassify the northern long-eared bat as endangered.
  • The Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan DNR are developing a joint, large-scale Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The HCP describes the potential positive and negative impacts of forest management for bats, and details conservation objectives to offset forest management impacts on bats.
  • Other eligible non-federal public, tribal, or private forest landowners in Minnesota may be able to cover their forest lands under the provisions of the HCP through an enrollment option. They have the option to develop their own HCP through the USFWS, if desired.
  • The HCP integrates forest practices with conservation objectives to support bat populations. Input from forest landowners, forest managers, conservation groups, and other stakeholders is essential to developing an effective HCP.
Why are Minnesota's bats important?
  • Bats are a critical component of a healthy ecosystem. A bat can consume its weight in insects every night, reducing the need for agricultural pesticides and decreasing mosquito populations.
  • White-nose syndrome has caused up to 97-100 percent declines in infected bat populations across the country. Many cave-hibernating forest bats are at risk because of this disease.
  • Forest management activities benefit bats and other wildlife, while maintaining healthy forests and generating income for landowners and timber companies.
  • Many of Minnesota’s bats spend spring, summer, and fall in the state’s forests, roosting in tree cavities and crevices, and under loose bark. Female bats give birth to young while in these tree roosts. Before they are able to fly, young bats may be vulnerable to impact by normal forest management activities that include tree removal and prescribed burning.
  • During the winter, many bats hibernate in caves and other structures throughout Minnesota.
  • Minnesotans want healthy bat populations that have access to the habitat they need to thrive and reproduce.
Why does Minnesota need a Habitat Conservation Plan?
  • In 2015, in response to the effects of white-nose syndrome, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) designated the northern long-eared bat as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
  • The 2015 designation included special provisions to allow for continued management of forest habitat through a 4(d) rule.
  • If Minnesota’s forest bats continue to decline as expected, they will likely be reclassified as endangered. If that happens, the special provisions under the 4(d) rule will no longer be available.
  • An Incidental Take Permit (ITP) will allow forest management to continue with modifications, while also allowing for the potential for the incidental take of bats.
  • The USFWS can issue an ITP only if the applicant develops a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).
  • The HCP describes the potential positive and negative impacts of forest management on bats, and biological objectives designed to provide a net positive impact on bats.
What is the DNR's role in the Habitat Conservation Plan?
  • In partnership with the Wisconsin and Michigan DNRs, we are developing the Lake States Forest Management Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (Bat HCP).
  • While the Bat HCP is being developed by all three state DNRs, each apply for their own Incidental Take Permit (ITP) from the USFWS. Each DNR may extend its take authorization (through the ITP) to other non-federal and non-state landowners via a Landowner Enrollment Program.
  • The Bat HCP will allow us to apply for an ITP. The ITP will have a 50-year permit term during which the HCP provisions will be implemented.
  • A federal grant to the three states is paying for development of the Bat HCP.
  • DNR experts in bat conservation and sustainable forest management are guiding development of the Bat HCP.
What is in the Lakes States Forest Management Bat Habitat Conservation Plan?

(NOTE: The Lake States Forest Management Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (Bat HCP) and the information provided here is not yet final.)

  • The Bat HCP is comprised of eight chapters and several appendices. It provides a framework to avoid, minimize, and mitigate for potential site-level effects on bats while allowing the state DNRs and eligible landowners to conduct forest management activities in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Input from forest land owners, forest managers, conservation groups and other stakeholders was essential to developing an effective HCP.
  • The Bat HCP covers three of the cave-dwelling bat species found in Minnesota: Northern Long-Eared Bat, Little Brown Bat, and Tri-colored Bat. The Bat HCP also covers the Indiana Bat, which is not found in Minnesota.
  • The covered lands of the Bat HCP includes all forestlands not owned or managed by the federal government and occurring within the states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. State DNR-owned or managed lands will be definitively covered by the incidental take permit. Other nonfederal lands (county and municipal, Tribal, and private forestlands) are eligible lands that can be covered by the permit through a Landowner Enrollment Program if program criteria are met.
  • Covered activities in the Bat HCP include:
    • Timber harvest and related forest practices, including regeneration harvest, intermediate harvest, salvage/sanitation, and temporary forest roads
    • Construction, maintenance, and use of roads and trails for forest management and recreational use on State DNR lands, as well as county lands covered by the landowner enrollment program
    • Prescribed fire, including fire breaks and burning
    • HCP implementation including bat monitoring and habitat restoration
  • The Bat HCP Conservation Strategy includes five main biological goals to:
    • Maintain Healthy Forests
    • Protect Roosts and Foraging Habitat
    • Promote stewardship on other lands
    • Protect Hibernacula
    • Avoid/Minimize Negative Effects of Covered Activities
What do forest land owners need to know?
  • If any of Minnesota's bats are reclassified as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, forest landowners may need to consider the effect of their activities on the endangered bats.
  • Eligible non-federal public, tribal, or private forest landowners in Minnesota may be able to have their forest lands covered by the provisions of the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) through the Landowner Enrollment Program (LEP). Landowners may be eligible to enroll in the LEP if their land contains known roost trees or hibernacula, or if their landholding is large enough that bat presence is likely.
  • Participation in the HCP is voluntary but will be an option for some landowners to demonstrate compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
  • Participants in the HCP will know they are complying with federal regulations and will provide conservation benefits to bat species while managing their forest.
  • Landowners also have the option to develop their own HCP or other Endangered Species Act compliance strategy through the USFWS, if desired.
What is the Landowner Enrollment Program?
  • DNR’s take authorization (through our ITP) may be extended eligible landowners through participation in the Landowner Enrollment Program (LEP). This includes county, municipal, private, and tribal landowners. Landowners may be eligible to enroll in the LEP if:
    1. they are conducting one or more covered activities on their lands, which includes timber harvest and related forestry practices; construction and maintenance of county forest roads and trails; prescribed fire; and HCP implementation such as bat monitoring and habitat restoration; and
    2. they meet one or more of the following eligibility criteria:
      • their land contains known occupied maternity roost trees or is within a quarter mile of a known hibernacula entrance
      • their landholding is large enough that bat presence is likely (in Minnesota, this is 10,000 or more acres)
  • Participants will be responsible for implementing portions of the HCP Conservation Strategy on their enrolled lands. The conservation actions for LEP participants is a subset of the HCP Conservation strategy for which the DNR is responsible (See the dropdown above for more information on “What’s in the Lake States Forest Management Bat Habitat Conversation Plan?”).
  • The Minnesota DNR is pursuing an expedited rulemaking this fall to authorize LEP activities that may incidentally take bats, which are protected wild animals, under a federal incidental take permit. The expedited rulemaking is necessary to implement the LEP to encourage sustainable forest management practices across the landscape that provide conservation benefit for bats.

Contact

Please email questions to [email protected].