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 (ESA). 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 ESA. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (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. Therefore, the Minnesota DNR, in partnership with the Wisconsin DNR and Michigan DNR, is developing a Lake States Forest Management Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (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 HCP. The biological objectives outlined in the 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 HCP, share opportunities for involvement, and gather your input as the plan is developed.
What is a Habitat Conservation Plan?
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 would 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 they perform as land administrators. Other non-federal public or private landowners may be able to have their forest lands covered by the provisions of the HCP through a Landowner Enrollment Program. Landowners have the option to develop their own HCP through the USFWS, if desired. The USFWS Habitat Conservation Plans website has more information about HCPs.
How can I get involved?
The next opportunity to get involved and provide feedback will be through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Review Process, which is expected to take place via the federal register in the fall of 2021. Sign up below to receive updates on the HCP, including opportunities to provide input.
Draft chapters of the HCP were available for input during review periods in 2018 & 2020, and these chapters are available upon request by emailing [email protected].
For additional background and details of the HCP process, you may also review the following past presentations.
- Chapters 6-8 update - webinar slides from July 30, 2020
- Chapters 4-5 update – webinar slides from April 2, 2020
- 2017 introductory webinar. If you need an accommodation for the video, contact Lori Knosalla at 651-259-5269 or email [email protected]
- 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.
- The Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan Departments of Natural Resources are developing a joint, large-scale HCP. The HCP describes the potential positive and negative impacts of forest management for bats, and details biological objectives to offset forest management impacts on bats.
- Non-federal public or private 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, if desired.
- The HCP integrates forest practices with biological objectives to support bat populations. Input from forest land owners, 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 95 percent declines in bat populations of Minnesota and across the country. Many forest bats are imperiled 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.
- During the winter, many bats hibernate in caves and other structures throughout MN.
- 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 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 will no longer be available.
- An Incidental Take Permit (ITP) will allow forest management to continue with restrictions, while also allowing for the potential incidental take of bats.
- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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?
- The Minnesota DNR is partnering with the Wisconsin and Michigan DNRs to develop the Lake States Forest Bat Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).
- While the HCP is being developed by all three state DNRs, they will each apply for their own ITPs from USFWS. Each DNR may extend its take authorization (through the ITP) to other non-federal and non-state landowners via a Landowner Enrollment Program (LEP).
- As a forest land owner, the Minnesota DNR will benefit from the HCP as it will allow the Minnesota DNR to apply for an ITP.
- A federal grant to the three states is paying for development of the HCP.
- DNR experts in bat conservation and forest management are guiding development of the HCP.
- 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 will need to consider the effect of their activities on the endangered bats.
- Some non-federal public (county, municipal) or private landowners in Minnesota may be able to have their forest lands covered by the provisions of the HCP through the Landowner Enrollment Program (LEP). Landowners will 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.
- 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 through the USFWS, if desired. The USFWS Habitat Conservation Plans website has more information about the process.
- What is the Landowner Enrollment Program?
- DNR's take authorization (through our ITP) may be extended to non-federal and non-state landowners through participation in the LEP. This includes county, municipal, private, corporate landholdings, family forests, American Indian tribal lands, nongovernmental organization, unincorporated partnerships, associations, and club landowners. Landowners will 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.
- Participants will be responsible for implementing the HCP conservation strategy on their enrolled lands. The conservation strategy for LEP participants is a subset of the conservation actions for which the DNR is responsible.
Please email questions, comments, and input to [email protected]. All comments will be read and considered.