Protection of bats could have significant impact on county
A little creature not quite four inches long could virtually disable much of summer construction and logging activity in Carlton County.
In a report to the Carlton County Board Committee of the Whole on Tuesday, Land Commissioner Greg Bernu said the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is considering listing the northern long-eared bat as an endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Endangered species are animals and plants that are in danger of becoming extinct.
He said the bat is common in states east of Montana, all the way to the eastern seaboard, and its population has experienced a 90 percent drop-off rate in recent years due to its vulnerability to white-nose syndrome. Numbers in the northeast region of the United States, where the impact of white-nose syndrome was first measured in 2006, have declined by 99 percent.
Bernu said white-nose syndrome has since spread rapidly from the Northeast to the Midwest and Southeast, and was discovered most recently in Minnesota in the Tower-Soudan underground mine, where the bats commonly winter. Bernu said other bat hibernation sites have also been found in the Duluth area, a cave in southern Minnesota, and in the Sandstone Highway Department. Thus far, however, he said no significant mortality has been noted in the bat population as a result of the syndrome.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency has distributed information on the bat’s decline and prospective measures that would be taken if it is listed as endangered to the Department of Natural Resources and other related agencies, and a final decision will be made by October.
Bernu said if the Fish and Wildlife Service decides to move forward with the listing, it could have a significant impact locally.
“It would basically be a case of ‘do nothing’ during the months of June, July and August, when the bats are in their summer habitat (they roost in tall trees, snags, buildings and rock shelters and raise their nursery colonies under bark, shingles and in buildings), with extra precautions encouraged during May and September.”
He explained that would mean permits would be needed to remove trees or buildings or perform road or bridge work or other types of construction during those times and other activities might be prohibited entirely.
The website of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that highway and commercial development, surface mining, and wind-facility construction permanently remove the habitat of the bats. As well, timber harvest and forest management can remove or alter (improving or degrading) summer roosting and foraging habitat.
“This would directly impact at least 34 loggers we work with, the paper mill and our county crews as well,” said Bernu.
Commissioner Dick Brenner questioned just how valuable the bats are, if such extreme measures stand to be implemented in order to protect them.
Bernu said bats are voracious insect eaters and important pollinators as well, and he added they are a critical link in the natural food chain. He added, however, that he feels the Fish and Wildlife Service may have taken a knee-jerk reaction to the situation by deciding to adapt the same protection model used with the Indiana bat and gray bat, species he said which are limited to a far smaller area than our long-eared bat, making some measures inapplicable to this particular situation.
Bernu said at this point the update is strictly informational, but he wanted the Board to be aware of the possible implications if the listing moves forward.
In other business to come before the Board, commissioners learned that the Carlton County TXT4Life program was the recipient of the 2014 Technology Award presented at the National Conference of the Society for Public Health Education on March 20 in Baltimore, Md.
Highway Engineer Mike Tardy said the reconstruction of Highway 33 and the intersection with County Road 7 (Big Lake Road) is set to get underway on June 9. He said a public meeting is slated for Thursday night from 7-8:30 p.m. at Cloquet City Hall, 1307 Cloquet Ave.
“The staging for this project is fairly complex and there will be some significant impacts,” said Tardy, including a two-month detour beginning on July 8 that will reroute traffic along Highway 45.
Greg Croucher, jail/facilities inspector for the Minnesota Department of Corrections, presented a staffing analysis of the Carlton County Jail. He reported that several mandatory rules were not being met at the jail during a recent inspection, primarily because staffing is inadequate. The jail is currently short three staff positions that remain unfilled, which he said leaves those on duty to overlap job responsibilities.
“Even the administration has become a glorified court escort and transport provider at times,” he said, “and that means other facets of their jobs can’t always get done.”
Croucher said some of the staffing required at the jail is due to the increasingly antiquated design of the jail itself, which he said will have to be addressed in coming years.
“In the meantime,” he said, “we’re working on compiling what’s not getting done and make sure the jail is brought back into compliance.”
His primary recommendation was to increase the department by one corrections officer to allow the jail administrator and programmer to go back to doing what they are supposed to do.