Bat Scam: The Latest Enviro Attack on Vermont’s Economy

An environmental group called Green Mountain Forest Watch (GMFW) has suddenly developed a passionate concern for the Indiana bat. On November 5 it (the group, not the bat) filed an action with the U.S. Forest Service to block further logging in Green Mountain National Forest until such time as the world can be assured that the logging will not discomfit this endangered species.

The Forest Service says that it will suspend signing of any new logging contracts until the government figures out what to do about GMFW’s appeal. GMFW’s executive director Jim Northrup estimates that the bat issue will occupy the government for up to two years of no new logging and no new logging paychecks. By that time he certainly hopes to have found yet another legal weapon to shut down logging for two more years.

First, a few facts about the Indiana bat. This lovable little fellow weighs one quarter of an ounce and is beloved by chiropteraphiles (bat fanciers) because it has a pinker nose than other little gray bats. Its range is from the Oklahoma border to – rarely – Vermont, and south to Florida. There are an estimated 500,000 of these bats flying about, eating bugs, and occasionally spreading rabies. The Fish and Wildlife Service believes that this bat can be found in 102 Illinois counties, 92 Indiana counties, and 79 of 88 Ohio counties.

So why is this bat endangered? Because 435,000 of them happen to winter in just seven caves in Kentucky and Tennessee. Making those seven caves off limits to destructive activities ought to solve the Indiana bat problem, if indeed there is a problem.

But merely solving the problem is not the point. The point is that the Endangered Species Act (ESA), along with Federal wetlands regulation, is the prime weapon of every activist enviro trying to stop anything. Under this act, which most people think exists to protect the bald eagle and trumpeter swan, all activity on federally owned land must grind to a halt until the Fish and Wildlife Service decides that the activity to be undertaken won’t harm a listed species, whether or not the area in question has been designated critical habitat for that species. (Private landowners can also be broken on the ESA wheel, but that’s another story.)

Here in Vermont, at the extreme range of the half million Indiana bats, biologists found one quarter of an ounce of Indiana bats last February. This one bat was found among thousands of common gray bats in a protected cave which is not in Green Mountain National Forest. No matter.

Under the Endangered Species Act the existence of this one bat anywhere within flying or lawsuit range of Green Mountain National Forest can be sufficient to stop all habitat alteration (logging, trail clearing, firewood removal, etc.).

The poor Hispanic villagers of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico know all about the ESA. More than ten generations of these villagers have collected dead wood for cooking and heating from these mountains, which are now a national forest. In 1995 the enviros brought suit under the ESA to stop them, on the grounds hat rodents live in the dead wood, and the endangered Mexican spotted owl is known to feed on rodents.

An eight-year, $1.5 million effort by the Forest Service to locate Mexican spotted owls failed to produce any evidence of the birds within 100 miles of the Sangre de Cristo. No matter. The enviros won in court on the argument that the owls might decide to migrate into the area at any time.

How much the Green Mountain National Forest should be logged, and how much the public should be paid by the loggers for the privilege, is a legitimate public question, which the Forest Service decides after a lengthy process of public hearings and multi-year plans. But the enviros’ invocation of the ESA to stop logging altogether, in the name of one single bat that doesn’t even live in the Forest, is not a part of that process. It is yet another example of smash-mouth environmental extremism. It’s a real disgrace that Congress failed once again this year to amend the ESA to keep on protecting the bald eagle, but put an end to things like GMFW’s batscam.

John McClaughry is President of the Ethan Allen Institute, Vermont’s independent free market think tank. 

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