Groups file notice of intent to sue U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over lack of bonneted bat habitat

Chad Gillis
Fort Myers News-Press

Several environmental groups sent a notice of intent to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for what they say is failure to designate and protect Florida bonneted bat habitat

Florida is home to more than a dozen species, such as the Rafinesque’s big-eared bat, the Seminole bat, the Southeastern Myotis and the velvety free-tailed bat; but the bonneted bat is the largest and most endangered.

There are only 26 known colonies of the bat at 11 roosting locations, making it the most endangered bat in the United States. 

"It is way overdue," said Jaclyn Lopez, with the Center for Biological Diversity

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CBD and other groups petitioned the FWS to list the bonneted bat about a decade ago. 

"It really should have been done in 2013," Lopez said. "But we reached an agreement in 2018 and 2019 to do what they were supposed to do in 2013. But this, again, is to try to get them to designate critical habitat." 

Florida bonneted bats are the most endangered bats in the United States, and conservation groups are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because the agency has yet to designate critical habitat for the species.

The Florida bonneted bat was listed as endangered. The agency did not designated critical habitat for the species

The Florida bonneted bat was listed by the FWS as endangered in 2018, but the agency did not designated critical habitat for the species — as is typically the case. 

"Ordinarily, when (FWS) lists a species it's supposed to designate critical habitat for that species," Lopez said. "It's our position that the designation of critical habitat is very important for the species. Without our house or grocery store, we don't have a future. And it's the same for the bat." 

Major threats to the bat include the spraying of pesticides and habitat loss. 

The Florida bonneted bat lives mostly in rural preserve lands like the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and the Big Cypress National Preserve. It also occurs in Miami and has adapted to living on golf courses and other open spaces there. 

Once presumed extinct, the famed Florida bonneted bat grows to about the size of a large chicken egg.

A bonneted bat is shown, at Zoo Miami in Miami, where it had been taken after it was found weak and injured. It was rehabilitated and then released.

All 13 species of bats found in Florida are protected by law, and it's illegal to harm or purposely kill bats here.

Chuck Underwood, with the FWS, said the agency is not commenting on the situation at the moment. 

Endemic to Florida, the bonneted bat's habitat is shrinking as more lands are developed and more areas claimed by sea level rise. 

"There's a population of bats in the Everglades and there are several pockets in Miami-Dade county," said Paola Ferreira, with the Tropical Audubon Society. "Florida bonneted bats lived in Miami before it was urbanized and they still live on golf courses and other open spaces." 

The notice was filed Monday. 

"These threats are compounded by the bat’s small population size, genetic isolation, slow reproduction, and low fecundity, placing the species at risk of extinction," the notice reads. "At the time of listing, all known roosting sites were artificial structures." Fecundity refers to how well they produce offspring.

Lopez said climate change will impact the bats as well, making it even more difficult to survive in South Florida's changing landscape. 

"The types of trees that provide that ideal habitat will be impacted by sea level rise," Lopez said. 

Connect with this reporter: @ChadEugene on Twitter.