PENELOPE OVERTON, Republican-American
WATERBURY, Conn. (AP) — A deadly fungal disease is prompting the state to recommend classifying five of Connecticut’s eight native bat species as endangered, including three that weren’t even at risk just five years ago.
Unlike some listings, which are less about an actual population decline than about new and better data on a species, the new bat classifications are a result of the sweeping devastation caused by white-nose syndrome.
Thousands of Connecticut’s cave bats, and millions across the nation, have died from white-nose syndrome, which scientists believe causes an itching that wakes hibernating bats before there is enough food available to survive.
“What’s happened with our bats has happened incredibly fast,” said DEEP wildlife director Rick Jacobson. “It’s unusual that a species goes from not being listed at all to being endangered, but the decline is well documented.”
The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is beginning to update its list of native species that are endangered, threatened or of special concern. The agency last did this five years ago, in 2010.
The agency is basing its proposed changes on recommendations made by taxonomic review groups of wildlife experts culled from DEEP, universities, and nonprofit groups with field experience in the affected species.
The recommendations ranged from listing the northern goshawk as a state-threatened species, which would eliminate its use in state falconry, to listing the Atlantic sturgeon as endangered because of a federal listing in 2011.
The taxonomic groups recommended 17 invertebrate animals be added to the state endangered list, ranging from the Appalachian blue butterfly, known to only exist in the western edge of the state, to the little 17-year periodical cicada.
Many of the invertebrate additions, however, were a result of new state data on these little-documented species, Jacobson said, rather than knowledge of a decline in their population to endangered species levels.
Armed with this research, DEEP released its proposed changes last month in advance of a March 31 hearing. Depending on the reaction, it will take about six months for the agency changes to go into effect.
Unlike a federal listing, a state classification by itself doesn’t protect a listed species on private property, but it does protect it from state-funded actions, like paving a road or building a school. But some species are listed on both.
In Connecticut, an endangered species is one that is federally listed, or one that scientific field research shows is in danger of no longer being found here in the wild in Connecticut, with no more than five occurrences.
Threatened species have fewer than 10 occurrences, according to state law.
That does not translate into number of plants or animals present in the state. It may take a hundred individual beetles to make up a single occurrence, or self-sustaining community, of that species, but only two black bears.
For the newly listed bats, a single occurrence is a hibernation cave. It’s there that the white-nose syndrome has been wreaking havoc, its signature nose and wing fungus spreading from bat to bat to bat.
The agency cites survey data showing the numbers of eastern small-footed bat, little brown bat, northern long-eared bat, and tricolored bat are low enough now to be considered endangered in Connecticut, officials say.
The little brown had been one of Connecticut’s most common bats, but this species has been particularly hard hit by white-nose syndrome. These bats are of considerable benefit to people, eating up to 1,200 mosquitoes an hour.
The Indiana bat, a federally endangered bat, was already on the state’s list. The state’s silver haired, red and hoary bats, which roost in trees instead of the caves where white-nose fungus is found, remain species of special concern.
Connecticut’s other endangered mammal is the least shrew. The tiny, mole-like creature can only be found in one location in Connecticut, in a the salt grass meadows of coastal Middlesex County.
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