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USFWS will finalize critical habitat for endangered bonneted bats in Florida within the next year

Close-up of a beige gloved hand holding a brown small bat with the background blurred.
Bat Conservation International
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Courtesy
Projections indicate that sea levels will rise between 3 and 6 feet within much of the bonneted bats’ habitat over the course of this century.

“Florida bonneted bats desperately need critical habitat protection, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has excluded crucial areas threatened by development right now,” said attorney Ragan Whitlock with the Center for Biological Diversity.

The public had until Jan. 23 to comment on a proposal for endangered bonneted bat habitat in Florida. On that final day, more than 20 environmental organizations asked the federal government for additional protections.

In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service updated a proposal from 2020 on critical habitat for bonneted bats, dropping 250,000 acres that had been in the previous plan.

Map of Florida with red outlines of the 2022 proposed habitat and black outlines of the 2020 areas.
Kara Clauser
/
Center for Biological Diversity, 2023
Comparison of 2020 and 2022 Florida bonneted bat critical habitat proposals.

Conservation groups, including Bat Conservation International, the Center for Biological Diversity and Conservancy of Southwest Florida, pointed out in a letter to the FWS that the designation falls short of the Endangered Species Act’s mandate to support the recovery and survival of the bat.

“FWS’s final decision must be based on the best available science, which supports including areas of occupied habitat that are threatened by urban development and occupied habitat around humanmade structures, including dark, open airspace necessary for foraging,” the organizations said in the letter.

They added that the agency should designate unoccupied habitat in light of the projected impacts from climate change and sea level rise, including anticipated changes in land use and coastal squeeze.

“Florida bonneted bats desperately need critical habitat protection, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has excluded crucial areas threatened by development right now,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s attorney Ragan Whitlock in a news release.

“These vulnerable bats deserve better. Federal officials should revise their plan to safeguard all the places the animals need to survive and recover.”

A representative for FWS did not immediately answer an email asking for comment.

The agency has one year to finalize the proposal before submitting it to the Federal Register. FWS could make changes to its proposal based on public comment between now and then.

My main role for WUSF is to report on climate change and the environment, while taking part in NPR’s High-Impact Climate Change Team. I’m also a participant of the Florida Climate Change Reporting Network.