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Streamlined Statewide Initiative Helps Protect Endangered Indiana Bat in Ohio
Predictability. That's what transportation professionals want as they try to preserve the habitat of the endangered Indiana bat during highway construction. Predictability is also what a programmatic consultation initiative pioneered by the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and the Ohio Ecological Services Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) ensures.
Indiana bat. Photo by John Chenger.
The dark-brown to black Indiana bat has mouselike ears and weighs only three-tenths of an ounce (about the weight of three pennies). Its range covers 27 states, including Ohio. As other bats, Indiana bats hibernate in caves during the winter, clustering together in large numbers. In the spring, the bats migrate to their summer habitats, foraging for food along rivers, lakes, and the edges of forested areas and roosting under the peeling bark of dead or dying trees. Indiana bats usually return to the trees in which they roosted the previous year. Males roost alone in small groups, while females roost in larger groups called "maternity colonies."
This statewide initiative requires that both identified bat locations and surveyed sites where bats were not found be recorded; then biologists assess where transportation impacts to the bats are likely to occur. The biological needs of the bats must also be detailed, and a bibliography of known references to the Indiana bat nationwide (some 300 studies and reports) is being provided to decision makers. The initiative provides the basis for streamlining project development and eliminating the need for long and often frustrating project-by-project consultation.
Indiana bats cluster together in large numbers. Photo by USFWS.
Before and after scenarios demonstrate the success of this project. Before adopting the programmatic consultation, project partners disagreed on the definition of terms such as "travel corridor," "maternity colonies," and "maternity roost trees." The ODOT crews had no way to predict the extent to which a transportation improvement might affect the bats or their habitat. ODOT were also previously unable to tell which trees could be removed in a proposed project and which could not.
The new agreement standardized important definitions and implemented a predictable two-tiered approach that enables ODOT staff to know which projects can move forward, how much time the consultation will take, and what conservation or mitigation strategies may apply. Tier 1 projects are those that "may affect, but are not likely to adversely affect" Indiana bats. Tier 2 projects include activities that "may affect, and are likely to adversely affect" the bats. For each of these two tiers, the agreement spells out specific requirements for information gathering, a surprisingly short process that involves counting and identifying potential roost trees in a project area. The agreement provides a consensus on the kinds of impacts that would be considered an "adverse effect" or "no adverse effect." Armed with this information from the on-site tree surveys, ODOT can plan in advance the appropriate conservation measures to carry out for the Indiana bat.
Indiana bats roost on trees with peeling bark. Photo by USFWS.
Opportunity. Ohio's landmark programmatic agreement does more than minimize and mitigate impacts to Indiana bats while simplifying the Endangered Species Act coordination process. It affords opportunities to conduct regional research studies and conservation strategies that were not practical under the project-by-project approach. When these conservation strategies are needed on particular projects, conservation can now occur outside the immediate project area. This allows ODOT to conduct research activities more valuable to conservation of the species than only determining the bats' presence or absence. The entire ecosystem will be able to benefit from this flexibility, not just the Indiana bat.
Taxpayer dollars for the Indiana Bat Programmatic Consultation have been well spent. Since January 2007, ODOT has reviewed more than 250 projects. Thanks to the consensus between ODOT and USFWS on how "roost trees" and "maternity roost trees" are now defined, only 65 projects have needed to go to USFWS for consultation. Of those 65 projects, only eight required seasonal cutting restrictions or other mitigation, saving ODOT more than $8 million a year and reducing review time by at least 75 percent. As a result, ODOT, FHWA, and USFWS partners can focus on efforts that have a better chance of improving Indiana bat recovery.
For more information please contact: Tim Hill, Tim.Hill@dot.state.oh.us