Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Species Status for Northern Long-Eared Bat, 16442-16452 [2022-06168]

Download as PDF 16442 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules of the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501 et seq.); • Is certified as not having a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. 601 et seq.); • Does not contain any unfunded mandate or significantly or uniquely affect small governments, as described in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (Public Law 104–4); • Does not have federalism implications as specified in Executive Order 13132 (64 FR 43255, August 10, 1999); • Is not an economically significant regulatory action based on health or safety risks subject to Executive Order 13045 (62 FR 19885, April 23, 1997); • Is not a significant regulatory action subject to Executive Order 13211 (66 FR 28355, May 22, 2001); • Is not subject to requirements of section 12(d) of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995 (15 U.S.C. 272 note) because application of those requirements would be inconsistent with the CAA; and • Does not provide EPA with the discretionary authority to address, as appropriate, disproportionate human health or environmental effects, using practicable and legally permissible methods, under Executive Order 12898 (59 FR 7629, February 16, 1994). In addition, the SIP is not approved to apply on any Indian reservation land or in any other area where EPA or an Indian tribe has demonstrated that a tribe has jurisdiction. In those areas of Indian country, the proposed rule does not have tribal implications and will not impose substantial direct costs on tribal governments or preempt tribal law as specified by Executive Order 13175 (65 FR 67249, November 9, 2000). jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 List of Subjects in 40 CFR Part 52 Environmental protection, Air pollution control, Carbon monoxide, Greenhouse gases, Incorporation by reference, Intergovernmental relations, Lead, Nitrogen dioxide, Ozone, Particulate matter, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Sulfur oxides, Volatile organic compounds. (Authority: 42 U.S.C. 7401 et seq.) Dated: March 18, 2022. KC Becker, Regional Administrator, Region 8. [FR Doc. 2022–06172 Filed 3–22–22; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 6560–50–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR Fish and Wildlife Service 50 CFR Part 17 [Docket No. FWS–R3–ES–2021–0140; FF09E21000 FXES1111090FEDR 223] RIN 1018–BG14 Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Species Status for Northern Long-Eared Bat Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior. ACTION: Proposed rule. AGENCY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to reclassify the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), a bat species found in all or portions of 37 U.S. States, the District of Columbia, and much of Canada, as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The northern long-eared bat is currently listed as a threatened species with an accompanying rule issued under section 4(d) of the Act (‘‘4(d) rule’’). This document complies with a court order, which requires the Service to make a new listing decision for the northern long-eared bat. After a review of the best available scientific and commercial information, we find that the northern long-eared bat meets the Act’s definition of an endangered species. Accordingly, we propose to list the northern longeared bat as an endangered species under the Act. If we finalize this rule as proposed, it would reclassify this species as an endangered species on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and remove its species-specific 4(d) rule. Additionally, this proposed rule serves as our 5-year review of the species. We also are notifying the public that we have scheduled an informational meeting followed by a public hearing on the proposed rule. DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before May 23, 2022. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below) must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date. Public informational meeting and public hearing: We will hold a public informational meeting from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Central Time, followed by a public hearing from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Central Time, on April 7, 2022. ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods: (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: https:// SUMMARY: PO 00000 Frm 00010 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R3–ES–2021–0140. Then, click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the panel on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, check the Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment by clicking on ‘‘Comment.’’ (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS–R3–ES–2021–0140, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041– 3803. We request that you send comments only by the methods described above. We will post all comments on https:// www.regulations.gov. This generally means that we will post any personal information you provide us (see Information Requested, below, for more information). Public informational meeting and public hearing: The public informational meeting and the public hearing will be held virtually using the Zoom platform. See Public Hearing, below, for more information. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shauna Marquardt, Field Supervisor, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office, 4101 American Boulevard East, Bloomington, MN 55425; telephone 952–252–0092. Individuals in the United States who are deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability may dial 711 (TTY, TDD, or TeleBraille) to access telecommunications relay services. Individuals outside the United States should use the relay services offered within their country to make international calls to the point-ofcontact in the United States. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Information Requested We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request comments or information from other governmental agencies, Native American Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other interested parties concerning this proposed rule. We particularly seek comments concerning: (1) The species’ biology, range, and population trends, including: (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the species, including habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering; E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules (b) Genetics and taxonomy; (c) Historical and current range, including distribution patterns; (d) Historical and current population levels, and current and projected trends; and (e) Past and ongoing conservation measures for the species, its habitat, or both. (2) Factors that may affect the continued existence of the species, which may include habitat modification or destruction, overutilization, disease, predation, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, or other natural or manmade factors. (3) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning any threats (or lack thereof) to this species and existing regulations that may be addressing those threats. (4) Additional information concerning the historical and current status, range, distribution, and population size of this species, including the locations of any additional populations of this species. Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to verify any scientific or commercial information you include. Please note that submissions merely stating support for, or opposition to, the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or a threatened species must be made ‘‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.’’ You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES. If you submit information via https:// www.regulations.gov, your entire submission—including any personal identifying information—will be posted on the website. If your submission is made via a hardcopy that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the top of your document that we withhold this information from public review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We will post all hardcopy submissions on https://www.regulations.gov. Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available for public inspection on https://www.regulations.gov. Because we will consider all comments and information we receive VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 during the comment period, our final determination may differ from this proposal. Based on the new information we receive (and any comments on that new information), we may conclude that the species should remain listed as a threatened species instead of reclassified as an endangered species, or we may conclude that the species does not warrant listing as either an endangered species or a threatened species. Public Hearing Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for a public hearing on this proposal, if requested. For the immediate future, we will provide these public hearings using webinars that will be announced on the Service’s website, in addition to the Federal Register. The use of these virtual public hearings is consistent with our regulations at 50 CFR 424.16(c)(3). See DATES and ADDRESSES for information on a public hearing that we have scheduled for this rulemaking action. Previous Federal Actions On October 2, 2013, we proposed to list the northern long-eared bat as an endangered species under the Act (78 FR 61046); please refer to that proposed rule for a detailed description of previous Federal actions concerning this species. On January 16, 2015, we proposed to create a 4(d) rule to provide measures that are necessary and advisable to provide for the conservation of the northern long-eared bat should we determine the species warrants listing as a threatened species under the Act (80 FR 2371). That document also reopened the public comment period on the October 2, 2013, proposed rule for another 60 days, ending on March 17, 2015. On April 2, 2015, we finalized a rule listing the northern long-eared bat as a threatened species and established an interim 4(d) rule for the species (80 FR 17974). We solicited public comment on the interim 4(d) rule for 90 days, ending on July 1, 2015. On January 14, 2016, we finalized the 4(d) rule for the northern long-eared bat (81 FR 1900). On April 27, 2016, we published a not-prudent determination for critical habitat (81 FR 24707). A January 28, 2020, court order requires the Service to make a new listing decision for the northern longeared bat (Center for Biological Diversity v. Everson, 435 F. Supp. 3d. 69 (D.D.C. 2020)). The court order remanded our April 2, 2015, listing decision (80 FR 17974) but did not vacate that rule. This PO 00000 Frm 00011 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 16443 document complies with the court order. Supporting Documents A species status assessment (SSA) team prepared an SSA report for the northern long-eared bat (Service 2021, entire). The SSA report represents a compilation of the best scientific and commercial data available concerning the status of the species, including the impacts of past, present, and future factors (both negative and beneficial) affecting the species. In accordance with our joint policy on peer review published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), and our August 22, 2016, memorandum updating and clarifying the role of peer review of listing actions under the Act, we sought the expert opinions of five species experts regarding the SSA report. We received responses from three of the five experts. We also sent the SSA report to approximately 150 State, Federal, Tribal, and other (for example, nongovernmental organizations) partners with expertise in bat biology or threats to the species for review. We received reviews from approximately 35 partners. Proposed Listing Determination Background A thorough review of the taxonomy, life history, and ecology of the northern long-eared bat is presented in the SSA report (Service 2021, entire). The northern long-eared bat is a wideranging bat species found in 37 States (Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), the District of Columbia, and 8 Canadian provinces. The species typically overwinters in caves or mines and spends the remainder of the year in forested habitats. As its name suggests, the northern long-eared bat is distinguished by its long ears, particularly as compared to other bats in its genus, Myotis. The bat is medium to dark brown on its back, with dark brown ears and wings, and tawny to pale-brown fur on its ventral side. Its weight ranges from approximately 5 to 8 grams (0.2 to 0.3 ounces). Female northern long-eared bats produce a maximum of one pup per year; E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 16444 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules therefore, loss of one pup results in missing one year of recruitment for a female. The individual, population-level, and species-level needs of the northern longeared bat are summarized below in tables 1–3. For additional information, please see the SSA report (Service 2021, chapter 2). TABLE 1—THE ECOLOGICAL REQUISITES FOR SURVIVAL AND REPRODUCTIVE SUCCESS OF NORTHERN-LONG-EARED BAT INDIVIDUALS Season Life stage Spring Summer Fall Pups (non-flying juveniles). ........................................................ Juveniles ..................... ........................................................ All adults ..................... Suitable roosting and foraging habitat near abundant food and water resources, and habitat connectivity and open-air space for safe migration between winter and summer habitats. Roosting habitat with suitable conditions for lactating females and for pups to stay warm and protected from predators while adults are foraging. Other maternity colony members (colony dynamics, thermoregulation), and suitable roosting and foraging habitat near abundant food and water resources. Summer roosts and foraging habitat near abundant food and water resources. Reproductive females ........................................................ Winter Suitable roosting and foraging habitat near abundant food and water resources. Habitat with suitable conditions for prolonged bouts of torpor and shortened periods of arousal. Suitable roosting and foraging habitat near abundant food and water resources, cave and/or mine entrances or other similar locations (for example, culvert, tunnel) for conspecifics to swarm and mate, and habitat connectivity and open-air space for safe migration between winter and summer habitats. Habitat with suitable conditions for prolonged bouts of torpor and shortened periods of arousal. Other maternity colony members (colony dynamics), a network of suitable roosts (i.e., multiple summer roosts in close proximity) near conspecifics, and foraging habitat near abundant food and water resources. TABLE 2—POPULATION-LEVEL REQUISITES FOR A HEALTHY NORTHERN LONG-EARED BAT POPULATION Parameter Requirements Population growth rate, λ ......................................................................... At a minimum, λ must be ≥1 for a population to remain stable over time. Sufficiently large N to allow for essential colony dynamics and to be adequately resilient to environmental fluctuations. Safe and stable winter roosting sites with suitable microclimates. Safe space to migrate between spring/fall habitat and winter roost sites. A matrix of habitat of sufficient quality and quantity to support bats as they exit hibernation (lowest body condition) or as they enter hibernation (need to put on body fat). A matrix of habitat of sufficient quality and quantity to support maternity colonies. Population size, N .................................................................................... Winter roosting habitat ............................................................................. Migration habitat ....................................................................................... Spring and fall roosting, foraging, and commuting (i.e., traveling between habitat types) habitat. Summer roosting, foraging, and commuting habitat ................................ TABLE 3—SPECIES-LEVEL ECOLOGY: REQUISITES FOR LONG-TERM VIABILITY [Ability to maintain self-sustaining populations over a biologically meaningful timeframe] Requisites for long-term viability jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 3 Rs Description Resiliency (populations able to withstand stochastic events). Healthy populations across a diversity of environmental conditions. Redundancy (number and distribution of populations to withstand catastrophic events). Representation (genetic and ecological diversity to maintain adaptive potential). Multiple and sufficient distribution of populations within areas of unique variation (representation units). Maintain adaptive diversity of the species Maintain evolutionary processes .............. VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 PO 00000 Frm 00012 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 Self-sustaining populations are demographically, genetically, and physiologically robust, and have enough suitable habitat. Sufficient number and distribution of populations to guard against population losses. Populations maintained across a range of behavioral, physiological, ecological, and environmental diversity. Maintain evolutionary drivers—gene flow, natural selection—to mimic historical patterns. E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 Regulatory and Analytical Framework Regulatory Framework Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for determining whether a species is an endangered species or a threatened species. The Act defines an ‘‘endangered species’’ as a species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and a ‘‘threatened species’’ as a species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The Act requires that we determine whether any species is an endangered species or a threatened species because of any of the following factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) Disease or predation; (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. These factors represent broad categories of natural or human-caused actions or conditions that could have an effect on a species’ continued existence. In evaluating these actions and conditions, we look for those that may have a negative effect on individuals of the species, as well as other actions or conditions that may ameliorate any negative effects or may have positive effects. We use the term ‘‘threat’’ to refer in general to actions or conditions that are known to or are reasonably likely to negatively affect individuals of a species. The term ‘‘threat’’ includes actions or conditions that have a direct impact on individuals (direct impacts), as well as those that affect individuals through alteration of their habitat or required resources (stressors). The term ‘‘threat’’ may encompass—either together or separately—the source of the action or condition or the action or condition itself. However, the mere identification of any threat(s) does not necessarily mean that the species meets the statutory definition of an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened species.’’ In determining whether a species meets either definition, we must evaluate all identified threats by considering the expected response by the species, and the effects of the threats—in light of those actions and conditions that will ameliorate the threats—on an VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 individual, population, and species level. We evaluate each threat and its expected effects on the species, then analyze the cumulative effect of all of the threats on the species as a whole. We also consider the cumulative effect of the threats in light of those actions and conditions that will have positive effects on the species, such as any existing regulatory mechanisms or conservation efforts. The Secretary determines whether the species meets the definition of an ‘‘endangered species’’ or a ‘‘threatened species’’ only after conducting this cumulative analysis and describing the expected effect on the species now and in the foreseeable future. The Act does not define the term ‘‘foreseeable future,’’ which appears in the statutory definition of ‘‘threatened species.’’ Our implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.11(d) set forth a framework for evaluating the foreseeable future on a case-by-case basis. The term ‘‘foreseeable future’’ extends only so far into the future as the Service can reasonably determine that both the future threats and the species’ responses to those threats are likely. In other words, the foreseeable future is the period of time in which we can make reliable predictions. ‘‘Reliable’’ does not mean ‘‘certain’’; it means sufficient to provide a reasonable degree of confidence in the prediction. Thus, a prediction is reliable if it is reasonable to depend on it when making decisions. It is not always possible or necessary to define foreseeable future as a particular number of years. Analysis of the foreseeable future uses the best scientific and commercial data available and should consider the timeframes applicable to the relevant threats and to the species’ likely responses to those threats in view of its life-history characteristics. Data that are typically relevant to assessing the species’ biological response include speciesspecific factors such as lifespan, reproductive rates or productivity, certain behaviors, and other demographic factors. Analytical Framework The SSA report documents the results of our comprehensive biological review of the best scientific and commercial data regarding the status of the northern long-eared bat, including an assessment of the potential threats to the species. The SSA report does not represent a decision by the Service on whether the species should be proposed for listing as an endangered or threatened species under the Act. However, it does provide the scientific basis that informs our regulatory decisions, which involve the PO 00000 Frm 00013 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 16445 further application of standards within the Act and its implementing regulations and policies. The following is a summary of the key results and conclusions from the SSA report; the full SSA report can be found at Docket No. FWS–R3–ES–2021–0140 on https:// www.regulations.gov. To assess the northern long-eared bat’s viability, we used the three conservation biology principles of resiliency, redundancy, and representation (Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 306–310). Briefly, resiliency supports the ability of the species to withstand environmental and demographic stochasticity (for example, wet or dry or warm or cold years), redundancy supports the ability of the species to withstand catastrophic events (for example, droughts, large pollution events), and representation supports the ability of the species to adapt over time to long-term changes in the environment (for example, climate changes). In general, the more resilient and redundant a species is and the more representation it has, the more likely it is to sustain populations over time, even under changing environmental conditions. Using these principles, we identified the species’ ecological requirements for survival and reproduction at the individual, population, and species levels, and described the beneficial and risk factors influencing the species’ viability. The SSA process can be categorized into three sequential stages. During the first stage, we evaluated the individual species’ life-history needs. The next stage involved an assessment of the historical and current condition of the species’ demographics and habitat characteristics, including an explanation of how the species arrived at its current condition. The final stage of the SSA involved making predictions about the species’ responses to positive and negative environmental and anthropogenic influences. Throughout all of these stages, we used the best available information to characterize viability as the ability of a species to sustain populations in the wild over time. We use this information to inform our regulatory decision. Summary of Biological Status and Threats In this discussion, we review the biological condition of the northern long-eared bat and its resources, and the threats that influence the species’ current and future condition, in order to assess the species’ overall viability and the risks to that viability. For a full description, see the SSA report (Service 2021, entire). E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 16446 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 Although there are other stressors affecting the northern long-eared bat, the primary factor influencing its viability is white-nose syndrome (WNS), a disease of bats caused by a fungal pathogen. Some of the other factors that influence the northern long-eared bat’s viability (though to a far lesser extent than the influence of WNS) include wind energy mortality, effects from climate change, and habitat loss. These stressors and their effects to the northern long-eared bat are summarized below: • WNS has been the foremost stressor on the northern long-eared bat for more than a decade. The fungus that causes the disease, Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), invades the skin of bats. Infection leads to increases in the frequency and duration of arousals during hibernation and eventual depletion of fat reserves needed to survive winter, and results in mortality. Since its discovery in New York in 2006, Pd has been confirmed (or presumed) in 37 States and 7 Canadian provinces. There is no known mitigation or treatment strategy to slow the spread of Pd or to treat WNS in bats. WNS has caused estimated northern long-eared bat population declines of 97–100 percent across 79 percent of the species’ range. • Wind energy-related mortality of the northern long-eared bat is a stressor at local and regional levels, where northern long-eared bat populations have been impacted by WNS. In 2020, northern long-eared bats were at risk from wind mortality in approximately 49 percent of their range, based on the areas where wind turbines were in place VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 and operating (using known northern long-eared bat occurrences, average migration distance, and the spatial distribution of wind turbines) (Service 2021, p. iv). Most bat mortality at wind energy projects is caused by direct collisions with moving turbine blades. • Climate change variables, such as changes in temperature and precipitation, may influence the northern long-eared bat’s resource needs, such as suitable roosting habitat for all seasons, foraging habitat, and prey availability. Although a changing climate may provide some benefit to the northern long-eared bat, overall negative impacts are anticipated, especially at local levels. • Habitat loss (including but not limited to forest conversion or hibernacula disturbance or destruction) may include loss of suitable roosting or foraging habitat, resulting in longer flights between suitable roosting and foraging habitats due to habitat fragmentation, fragmentation of maternity colony networks, and direct injury or mortality. Loss or modification of winter roosts (i.e., making hibernaculum no longer suitable) can result in impacts to individuals or at the population level. However, habitat loss alone is not considered to be a key stressor at the species level, and habitat does not appear to be limiting. In evaluating current conditions of the northern long-eared bat, we used the best available data. Winter hibernacula counts provide the most consistent, long-term, reliable trend data and provide the most direct measure of WNS impacts. We also used summer data in evaluating population trends, although PO 00000 Frm 00014 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 the availability and quality of summer data varies temporally and spatially. Available evidence, including both winter and summer data, indicates northern long-eared bat abundance has and will continue to decline substantially under current demographic and stressor conditions, primarily driven by the effects of WNS. As part of our assessment of the current condition of northern long-eared bat’s representation, we identified and delineated the variation across the northern long-eared bat’s range into geographical representation units (RPUs) using the following proxies: Variation in biological traits, genetic diversity, peripheral populations, habitat niche diversity, and steep environmental gradients. Winter abundance (from known hibernacula) has declined rangewide (49 percent) and declined across all but one RPU (declines range from 0 to 90 percent). The number of extant winter colonies also declined rangewide (by 81 percent) and across all RPUs (40–88 percent). There has also been a noticeable shift towards smaller colony sizes, with a 96–100 percent decline in the number of large hibernacula (≥100 individuals) across the RPUs (figure 1.). We created projections (highest plausible and lowest plausible scenarios) for the species using its current condition and the current rates of mortality from WNS effects and wind energy. Rangewide abundance is projected to decline by 95 percent and the spatial extent to decline by 75 percent from historical conditions by 2030. Declines continue to be driven by the catastrophic effects of WNS. E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 Declining trends in abundance and extent of occurrence are also evident across much of the northern long-eared bat’s summer range. Rangewide occupancy has declined by 80 percent from 2010–2019. Data collected from mobile acoustic transects found a 79 percent decline in rangewide relative abundance from 2009–2019, and summer mist-net captures declined by 43–77 percent (across RPUs) compared to pre-WNS capture rates. As discussed above, multiple data types and analyses indicate downward trends in northern long-eared bat population abundance and distribution over the last 14 years, and the best available information indicates that this downward trend will continue. Northern long-eared bat abundance (winter and summer), number of occupied hibernacula, spatial extent, and summer habitat occupancy across the range and within all RPUs are decreasing. Since the occurrence of WNS, northern long-eared bat abundance has steeply declined, leaving populations with small numbers of individuals. At these low population sizes, colonies are vulnerable to extirpation from stochastic events and the deleterious effects of reduced population sizes such as limiting natural selection processes and decreased genetic diversity. Furthermore, small populations generally cannot rescue one another from such a depressed state because of the northern long-eared bat’s low VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 reproduction output (one pup per year) and its high philopatry (tending to return to a particular area). These inherent life-history traits limit the ability of populations to recover from low abundances. Consequently, effects of small population sizes exacerbate the effects of current and future declines due to continued exposure to WNS, mortality from wind turbines, and impacts associated with habitat loss and climate change. Therefore, northern long-eared bat’s resiliency is greatly compromised in its current condition. Because northern long-eared bat’s abundance and spatial extent have so dramatically declined, it has also become more vulnerable to catastrophic events. In other words, its redundancy has also declined dramatically. The steep and continued declines in abundance have likely led to reductions in genetic diversity, and thereby reduced northern long-eared bat adaptive capacity, and a decline in the species’ overall representation. Moreover, at its current low abundance, loss of genetic diversity will likely accelerate. Consequently, limited natural selection processes and decreased genetic diversity will further lessen the species’ ability to adapt to novel changes and exacerbate declines due to continued exposure to WNS, mortality from wind turbines, and impacts associated with habitat loss and climate change. Thus, even without further WNS spread and additional wind energy development (northern PO 00000 Frm 00015 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 16447 long-eared bat’s current condition), its viability is likely to continue to rapidly decline over the next 10 years. Future Condition As part of the SSA, we also developed two future condition scenarios to capture the range of uncertainties regarding future threats and the projected responses by the northern long-eared bat. Our scenarios included a plausible highest impact scenario and a plausible lowest impact scenario for each primary threat. Because we determined that the current condition of the northern long-eared bat is consistent with an endangered species (see Determination of Species Status, below), we are not presenting the results of the future scenarios in this proposed rule. Please refer to the SSA report (Service 2021) for the full analysis of future scenarios. We note that, by using the SSA framework to guide our analysis of the scientific information documented in the SSA report, we have not only analyzed individual effects on the species, but we have also analyzed their potential cumulative effects. We incorporate the cumulative effects into our SSA analysis when we characterize the current and future condition of the species. To assess the current and future condition of the species, we undertake an iterative analysis that encompasses and incorporates the threats individually and then accumulates and evaluates the effects of all the factors E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 EP23MR22.000</GPH> jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules 16448 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 that may be influencing the species, including threats and conservation efforts. Because the SSA framework considers not just the presence of the factors, but to what degree they collectively influence risk to the entire species, our assessment integrates the cumulative effects of the factors and replaces a standalone cumulative effects analysis. Conservation Efforts and Regulatory Mechanisms Below is a brief description of conservation measures and regulatory mechanisms currently in place. Please see the SSA report for a more detailed description (Service 2021, Appendix 4). Multiple national and international efforts are underway in an attempt to reduce the impacts of WNS. Despite these efforts, there are no proven measures to reduce the severity of impacts of WNS. More than 100 State and Federal agencies, Tribes, organizations, and institutions are engaged in this collaborative work to combat WNS and conserve affected bats. Partners from all 37 States in the northern long-eared bat’s range, Canada, and Mexico are engaged in collaborations to conduct disease surveillance, population monitoring, and management actions in preparation for or response to WNS. To reduce bat fatalities, some wind facilities ‘‘feather’’ turbine blades (i.e., pitch turbine blades parallel with the prevailing wind direction to slow rotation speeds) at low wind speeds at times when bats are more likely to be present. The wind speed at which the turbine blades begin to generate electricity is known as the ‘‘cut-in speed,’’ and this can be set at the manufacturer’s recommended speed or at a higher threshold, typically referred to as curtailment. The effectiveness of feathering below various cut-in speeds differs among sites and years (Arnett et al. 2013, entire; Berthinussen et al. 2021, pp. 94–106); nonetheless, most studies have shown all-bat (based on dead bats detected from all bat species) fatality reductions of greater than 50 percent associated with raising cut-in speeds by 1.0–3.0 meters per second (m/ s) above the manufacturer’s cut-in speed (Arnett et al. 2013, entire; USFWS unpublished data). The effectiveness of curtailment at reducing fatality rates specifically for the northern long-eared bat has not been documented. All States have active forestry programs with a variety of goals and objectives. Several States have established habitat protection buffers around known Indiana bat hibernacula that will also serve to benefit other bat VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 species by maintaining sufficient quality and quantity of swarming habitat. Some States conduct some of their forest management activities in the winter within known listed bat home ranges as a measure that would protect maternity colonies and non-volant (non-flying) pups during summer months. Depending on the type and timing of activities, forest management can be beneficial to bat species (for example, maintaining or increasing suitable roosting and foraging habitat). Forest management that results in heterogeneous (including forest type, age, and structural characteristics) habitat may benefit tree-roosting bat species such as northern long-eared bat (Silvis et al. 2016, p. 37). Silvicultural practices can meet both male and female northern long-eared bats’ roosting requirements by maintaining largediameter snags in early stages of decay, while allowing for regeneration of forests (Lacki and Schwierjohann 2001, p. 487). Many State and Federal agencies, conservation organizations, and land trusts have installed bat-friendly gates to protect important hibernation sites. All known hibernacula within national grasslands and forestlands of the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) are closed during the winter hibernation period, primarily due to the threat of WNS, although this will reduce disturbance to bats in general inhabiting these hibernacula (USFS 2013, unpaginated). Because of concern over the importance of bat roosts, including hibernacula, the American Society of Mammalogists developed guidelines for protection of roosts, many of which have been adopted by government agencies and special interest groups (Sheffield et al. 1992, p. 707). Also, regulations, such as the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 4301 et seq.), protect caves on Federal lands by limiting access to some caves, thereby reducing disturbance. Finally, many Indiana bat hibernacula have been gated, and some have been permanently protected via acquisition or easement, which provides benefits to other bats that also use the sites, including the northern long-eared bat. The northern long-eared bat is listed as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (COSEWIC 2013, entire). In addition, the northern long-eared bat receives varying degrees of protection through State laws, which designate the species as endangered in 9 States (Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Vermont); as threatened in 10 States PO 00000 Frm 00016 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 (Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin); and as a species of special concern in 10 States (Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming). Determination of Northern Long-Eared Bat Status Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for determining whether a species meets the definition of an endangered species or a threatened species. The Act defines an ‘‘endangered species’’ as a species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and a ‘‘threatened species’’ as a species likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. The Act requires that we determine whether a species meets the definition of an endangered species or a threatened species because of any of the following factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence. Status Throughout All of Its Range WNS has been the foremost stressor on the northern long-eared bat for more than a decade and continues to be currently. The fungus that causes the disease, Pd, invades the skin of bats and leads to infection that increases the frequency and duration of arousals during hibernation that eventually deplete the fat reserves needed to survive winter and results in mortality. There is no known mitigation or treatment strategy to slow the spread of Pd or to treat WNS in bats. WNS has caused estimated northern long-eared bat population declines of 97–100 percent across 79 percent of the species’ range (Factor C). Winter abundance (from known hibernacula) has declined rangewide (49 percent) and declined across all but one RPU (declines range from 0 to 90 percent), and the number of extant winter colonies also declined rangewide (81 percent) and across all RPUs (40–88 percent). There has also been a noticeable shift towards smaller colony sizes, with a 96–100 percent decline in the number of large hibernacula (≥100 individuals). Rangewide summer occupancy has E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules declined by 80 percent from 2010–2019. Summer data collected from mobile acoustic transects found a 79 percent decline in rangewide relative abundance from 2009–2019, and summer mist-net captures declined by 43–77 percent (across RPUs) compared to pre-WNS capture rates. We created projections for the species using its current condition and the current rates of mortality from WNS effects and wind energy. Rangewide abundance is projected to decline by 95 percent and the spatial extent is projected to decline by 75 percent from historical conditions by 2030. As a result of these steep population declines, the northern long-eared bat’s resiliency is greatly compromised in its current condition. Because the northern long-eared bat’s abundance and spatial extent substantially declined, its redundancy has decreased such that northern long-eared bats are more vulnerable to catastrophic events. The northern long-eared bat’s representation has also been reduced, as the steep and continued declines in abundance have likely led to reductions in genetic diversity, and thereby reduced the northern long-eared bat’s adaptive capacity. Further, the projected widespread reduction in the distribution of occupied hibernacula under current conditions will lead to losses in the diversity of environments and climatic conditions occupied, which will impede natural selection and further limit the northern long-eared bat’s ability to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Moreover, at its current low abundance, loss of genetic diversity via genetic drift will likely accelerate. Consequently, limiting natural selection process and decreasing genetic diversity will further lessen the northern long-eared bat’s ability to adapt to novel changes (currently ongoing as well as future changes) and exacerbate declines due to continued exposure to WNS and other stressors. Thus, even without further Pd spread and additional pressure from other stressors, the northern long-eared bat’s viability has declined substantially and is expected to continue to rapidly decline over the near term. Current population trends and status indicate this species is currently in danger of extinction. The species continues to experience the catastrophic effects of WNS and the compounding effect of other stressors from which extinction is now a plausible outcome under the current conditions. Therefore, the species meets the Act’s definition of an endangered species rather than of a threatened species. Thus, after assessing the best available information, we VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 determine that the northern long-eared bat is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range. Status Throughout a Significant Portion of Its Range Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may warrant listing if it is in danger of extinction or likely to become so in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. We have determined that the northern long-eared bat is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range and accordingly did not undertake an analysis of any significant portion of its range. Because the northern long-eared bat warrants listing as endangered throughout all of its range, our determination does not conflict with the decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. Everson, 2020 WL 437289 (D.D.C. Jan. 28, 2020), because that decision related to significant portion of the range analyses for species that warrant listing as threatened, not endangered, throughout all of their range. Determination of Status Our review of the best available scientific and commercial information indicates that the northern long-eared bat meets the Act’s definition of an endangered species. Therefore, we propose to list the northern long-eared bat as an endangered species in accordance with sections 3(6) and 4(a)(1) of the Act. Available Conservation Measures Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or threatened species under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain practices. Recognition through listing results in public awareness, and conservation by Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies, private organizations, and individuals. The Act encourages cooperation with the States and other countries and calls for recovery actions to be carried out for listed species. The protection required by Federal agencies and the prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, in part, below. The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The ultimate goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these listed species, so that they no longer need the protective measures of the Act. Section 4(f) of the Act calls for the Service to develop and implement recovery plans for the conservation of endangered and PO 00000 Frm 00017 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 16449 threatened species. The recovery planning process involves the identification of actions that are necessary to halt or reverse the species’ decline by addressing the threats to its survival and recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to a point where they are secure, selfsustaining, and functioning components of their ecosystems. Recovery planning consists of preparing draft and final recovery plans, beginning with the development of a recovery outline, and making it available to the public within 30 days of a final listing determination. The recovery outline guides the immediate implementation of urgent recovery actions and describes the process to be used to develop a recovery plan. Revisions of the plan may be done to address continuing or new threats to the species, as new substantive information becomes available. The recovery plan also identifies recovery criteria for review of when a species may be ready for reclassification from endangered to threatened (‘‘downlisting’’) or removal from protected status (‘‘delisting’’), and methods for monitoring recovery progress. Recovery plans also establish a framework for agencies to coordinate their recovery efforts and provide estimates of the cost of implementing recovery tasks. Recovery teams (composed of species experts, Federal and State agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders) are often established to develop recovery plans. When completed, the recovery outline, draft recovery plan, and the final recovery plan will be available on our website (https://www.fws.gov/ species/northern-bat-myotisseptentrionalis), or from our Minnesota Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal agencies, States, Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, and private landowners. Examples of recovery actions include habitat restoration (for example, restoration of native vegetation), research, captive propagation and reintroduction, and outreach and education. The recovery of many listed species cannot be accomplished solely on Federal lands because their range may occur primarily or solely on nonFederal lands. To achieve recovery of these species requires cooperative conservation efforts on private, State, and Tribal lands. For listed species, funding for recovery actions is available from a E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 16450 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules variety of sources, including Federal budgets, State programs, and cost-share grants for non-Federal landowners, the academic community, and nongovernmental organizations. In addition, pursuant to section 6 of the Act, the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming will continue to be eligible for Federal funds to implement management actions that promote the protection or recovery of the northern long-eared bat. Information on our grant programs that are available to aid species recovery can be found at: https://www.fws.gov/grants. Please let us know if you are interested in participating in recovery efforts for this species. Additionally, we invite you to submit any new information on this species whenever it becomes available and any information you may have for recovery planning purposes (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their actions with respect to any species that is proposed or listed as an endangered or threatened species and with respect to its critical habitat, if any is designated. Regulations implementing this interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR part 402. Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to confer with the Service on any action that is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of a species proposed for listing or result in destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. If a species is listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires Federal agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the responsible Federal agency must enter into consultation with the Service. Federal agency actions within the species’ habitat that may require conference or consultation or both as described in the preceding paragraph include, but are not limited to, management and any other landscapealtering activities on Federal lands administered by the U.S. Fish and VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and other Federal agencies; issuance of section 404 Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) permits by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and construction and maintenance of roads or highways by the Federal Highway Administration. The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to endangered wildlife. The prohibitions of section 9(a)(1) of the Act, codified at 50 CFR 17.21, make it illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to take (which includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect; or to attempt any of these) endangered wildlife within the United States or on the high seas. In addition, it is unlawful to import; export; deliver, receive, carry, transport, or ship in interstate or foreign commerce in the course of commercial activity; or sell or offer for sale in interstate or foreign commerce any species listed as an endangered species. It is also illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any such wildlife that has been taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply to employees of the Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, other Federal land management agencies, and State conservation agencies. We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities involving endangered wildlife under certain circumstances. Regulations governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 17.22. With regard to endangered wildlife, a permit may be issued for the following purposes: For scientific purposes, to enhance the propagation or survival of the species, and for incidental take in connection with otherwise lawful activities. The statute also contains certain exemptions from the prohibitions, which are found in sections 9 and 10 of the Act. It is our policy, as published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify to the maximum extent practicable at the time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act. The intent of this policy is to increase public awareness of the effect of a proposed listing on proposed and ongoing activities within the range of the species proposed for listing. At this time, we are unable to identify specific activities that would not be considered to result in a violation of section 9 of the Act because the northern long-eared bat occurs in a variety of habitat conditions across its PO 00000 Frm 00018 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 range and it is likely that site-specific conservation measures may be needed for activities that may directly or indirectly affect the species. Based on the best available information, the following activities may potentially result in a violation of section 9 of the Act if they are not authorized in accordance with applicable law; this list is not comprehensive: (1) Unauthorized collecting, handling, possessing, selling, delivering, carrying, or transporting of the species, including import or export across State lines and international boundaries, except for properly documented antique specimens of these taxa at least 100 years old, as defined by section 10(h)(1) of the Act. (2) Incidental take of the species without authorization pursuant to section 7 or section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act. (3) Disturbance or destruction (or otherwise making a hibernaculum no longer suitable) of known hibernacula due to commercial or recreational activities during known periods of hibernation. (4) Unauthorized destruction or modification of suitable forested habitat (including unauthorized grading, leveling, burning, herbicide spraying, or other destruction or modification of habitat) in ways that kills or injures individuals by significantly impairing the species’ essential breeding, foraging, sheltering, commuting, or other essential life functions. (5) Unauthorized removal or destruction of trees and other natural and manmade structures being used as roosts by the northern long-eared bat that results in take of the species. (6) Unauthorized release of biological control agents that attack any life stage of this taxon. (7) Unauthorized removal or exclusion from buildings or artificial structures being used as roost sites by the species, resulting in take of the species. (8) Unauthorized building and operation of wind energy facilities within areas used by the species, which results in take of the species. (9) Unauthorized discharge of chemicals, fill, or other materials into sinkholes, which may lead to contamination of known northern longeared bat hibernacula. Questions regarding whether specific activities would constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act should be directed to the Minnesota Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules Effects of This Rule If this rule is adopted as proposed, it would reclassify the northern long-eared bat from a threatened species to an endangered species on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. It would also remove the species-specific section 4(d) rule for the northern longeared bat, because 4(d) rules apply only to species listed as threatened species under the Act. The Act’s full suite of prohibitions and exceptions to those prohibitions for endangered species (see sections 9 and 10 of the Act) would then apply to the northern long-eared bat. jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 Public Hearings We have scheduled a public informational meeting with a public hearing on this proposed rule for the northern long-eared bat. We will hold the public informational meeting and public hearing on the date and time listed above under Public informational meeting and public hearing in DATES. We are holding the public informational meeting and public hearing via the Zoom online video platform and via teleconference so that participants can attend remotely. For security purposes, registration is required. To listen and view the meeting and hearing via Zoom, listen to the meeting and hearing by telephone, or provide oral public comments at the public hearing by Zoom or telephone, you must register. For information on how to register, or if you encounter problems joining Zoom the day of the meeting, visit https:// www.fws.gov/species/northern-batmyotis-septentrionalis. Registrants will receive the Zoom link and the telephone number for the public informational meeting and public hearing. If applicable, interested members of the public not familiar with the Zoom platform should view the Zoom video tutorials (https://support.zoom.us/hc/ en-us/articles/206618765-Zoom-videotutorials) prior to the public informational meeting and public hearing. The public hearing will provide interested parties an opportunity to present verbal testimony (formal, oral comments) regarding this proposed rule. While the public informational meeting will be an opportunity for dialogue with the Service, the public hearing is not: It is a forum for accepting formal verbal testimony. In the event there is a large attendance, the time allotted for oral statements may be limited. Therefore, anyone wishing to make an oral statement at the public hearing for the record is encouraged to provide a prepared written copy of their statement to us through the Federal eRulemaking VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 Portal, or U.S. mail (see ADDRESSES, above). There are no limits on the length of written comments submitted to us. Anyone wishing to make an oral statement at the public hearing must register before the hearing https:// www.fws.gov/species/northern-batmyotis-septentrionalis. The use of a virtual public hearing is consistent with our regulations at 50 CFR 424.16(c)(3). Required Determinations Clarity of the Rule We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain language. This means that each rule we publish must: (1) Be logically organized; (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly; (3) Use clear language rather than jargon; (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible. If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us comments by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. To better help us revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as possible. For example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections or paragraphs that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences are too long, the sections where you feel lists or tables would be useful, etc. National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), need not be prepared in connection with listing a species as an endangered or threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244). This position was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Douglas County v. Babbitt, 48 F.3d 1495 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied 516 U.S. 1042 (1996)). Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes In accordance with the President’s memorandum of April 29, 1994 (Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal Governments; 59 FR 22951), Executive PO 00000 Frm 00019 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 4702 16451 Order 13175 (Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments), and the Department of the Interior’s manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Rights, Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act), we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to work directly with Tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to acknowledge that Tribal lands are not subject to the same controls as Federal public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian culture, and to make information available to Tribes. We solicited information, provided updates, and invited participation in the SSA process in emails sent to Tribes, nationally, in April 2020 and November 2020. We will continue to work with Tribal entities during the development of the northern long-eared bat final listing determination. References Cited A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available on the internet at https://www.regulations.gov and upon request from the Minnesota Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT). Authors The primary authors of this proposed rule are staff members of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Species Assessment Team and the Minnesota Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office. List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17 Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and recordkeeping requirements, Transportation. Proposed Regulation Promulgation Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below: PART 17—ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS 1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows: ■ Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361–1407; 1531– 1544; and 4201–4245, unless otherwise noted. 2. Amend § 17.11, in paragraph (h), by revising the entry for ‘‘Bat, northern long-eared’’ under MAMMALS in the ■ E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1 16452 Federal Register / Vol. 87, No. 56 / Wednesday, March 23, 2022 / Proposed Rules § 17.11 Endangered and threatened wildlife. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife to read as follows: * Common name * * * (h) * * * * Scientific name Where listed Status * Myotis septentrionalis * * Wherever found ......... Listing citations and applicable rules MAMMALS * Bat, northern longeared. * § 17.40 * * [Amended] 3. Amend § 17.40 by removing and reserving paragraph (o). ■ Signing Authority The Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, approved this document and E * * * * 80 FR 17973, 4/2/2015; [Federal Register citation when published as a final rule]. * authorized the undersigned to sign and submit the document to the Office of the Federal Register for publication electronically as an official document of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Martha Williams, Director, approved * * this document on March 18, 2022, for publication. Madonna Baucum, Regulations and Policy Chief, Division of Policy, Risk Management, and Analytics of the Joint Administrative Operations, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. [FR Doc. 2022–06168 Filed 3–22–22; 8:45 am] jspears on DSK121TN23PROD with PROPOSALS1 BILLING CODE 4333–15–P VerDate Sep<11>2014 20:03 Mar 22, 2022 Jkt 256001 PO 00000 Frm 00020 Fmt 4702 Sfmt 9990 E:\FR\FM\23MRP1.SGM 23MRP1

Agencies

[Federal Register Volume 87, Number 56 (Wednesday, March 23, 2022)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 16442-16452]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2022-06168]


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DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R3-ES-2021-0140; FF09E21000 FXES1111090FEDR 223]
RIN 1018-BG14


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Endangered Species 
Status for Northern Long-Eared Bat

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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SUMMARY: We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), propose to 
reclassify the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis), a bat 
species found in all or portions of 37 U.S. States, the District of 
Columbia, and much of Canada, as an endangered species under the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The northern long-
eared bat is currently listed as a threatened species with an 
accompanying rule issued under section 4(d) of the Act (``4(d) rule''). 
This document complies with a court order, which requires the Service 
to make a new listing decision for the northern long-eared bat. After a 
review of the best available scientific and commercial information, we 
find that the northern long-eared bat meets the Act's definition of an 
endangered species. Accordingly, we propose to list the northern long-
eared bat as an endangered species under the Act. If we finalize this 
rule as proposed, it would reclassify this species as an endangered 
species on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and remove 
its species-specific 4(d) rule. Additionally, this proposed rule serves 
as our 5-year review of the species. We also are notifying the public 
that we have scheduled an informational meeting followed by a public 
hearing on the proposed rule.

DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before May 
23, 2022. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal 
eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES, below) must be received by 11:59 
p.m. Eastern Time on the closing date.
    Public informational meeting and public hearing: We will hold a 
public informational meeting from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., Central Time, 
followed by a public hearing from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Central Time, 
on April 7, 2022.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by one of the following methods:
    (1) Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: https://www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS-R3-ES-2021-0140. 
Then, click on the Search button. On the resulting page, in the panel 
on the left side of the screen, under the Document Type heading, check 
the Proposed Rule box to locate this document. You may submit a comment 
by clicking on ``Comment.''
    (2) By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail to: Public Comments 
Processing, Attn: FWS-R3-ES-2021-0140, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
MS: PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
    We request that you send comments only by the methods described 
above. We will post all comments on https://www.regulations.gov. This 
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide 
us (see Information Requested, below, for more information).
    Public informational meeting and public hearing: The public 
informational meeting and the public hearing will be held virtually 
using the Zoom platform. See Public Hearing, below, for more 
information.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Shauna Marquardt, Field Supervisor, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota Wisconsin Ecological Services 
Field Office, 4101 American Boulevard East, Bloomington, MN 55425; 
telephone 952-252-0092. Individuals in the United States who are deaf, 
deafblind, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability may dial 711 
(TTY, TDD, or TeleBraille) to access telecommunications relay services. 
Individuals outside the United States should use the relay services 
offered within their country to make international calls to the point-
of-contact in the United States.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Information Requested

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and 
be as accurate and as effective as possible. Therefore, we request 
comments or information from other governmental agencies, Native 
American Tribes, the scientific community, industry, or any other 
interested parties concerning this proposed rule.
    We particularly seek comments concerning:
    (1) The species' biology, range, and population trends, including:
    (a) Biological or ecological requirements of the species, including 
habitat requirements for feeding, breeding, and sheltering;

[[Page 16443]]

    (b) Genetics and taxonomy;
    (c) Historical and current range, including distribution patterns;
    (d) Historical and current population levels, and current and 
projected trends; and
    (e) Past and ongoing conservation measures for the species, its 
habitat, or both.
    (2) Factors that may affect the continued existence of the species, 
which may include habitat modification or destruction, overutilization, 
disease, predation, the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms, 
or other natural or manmade factors.
    (3) Biological, commercial trade, or other relevant data concerning 
any threats (or lack thereof) to this species and existing regulations 
that may be addressing those threats.
    (4) Additional information concerning the historical and current 
status, range, distribution, and population size of this species, 
including the locations of any additional populations of this species.
    Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as 
scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to 
verify any scientific or commercial information you include.
    Please note that submissions merely stating support for, or 
opposition to, the action under consideration without providing 
supporting information, although noted, will not be considered in 
making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that 
determinations as to whether any species is an endangered or a 
threatened species must be made ``solely on the basis of the best 
scientific and commercial data available.''
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning this proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you 
send comments only by the methods described in ADDRESSES.
    If you submit information via https://www.regulations.gov, your 
entire submission--including any personal identifying information--will 
be posted on the website. If your submission is made via a hardcopy 
that includes personal identifying information, you may request at the 
top of your document that we withhold this information from public 
review. However, we cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We 
will post all hardcopy submissions on https://www.regulations.gov.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation we used in preparing this proposed rule, will be 
available for public inspection on https://www.regulations.gov.
    Because we will consider all comments and information we receive 
during the comment period, our final determination may differ from this 
proposal. Based on the new information we receive (and any comments on 
that new information), we may conclude that the species should remain 
listed as a threatened species instead of reclassified as an endangered 
species, or we may conclude that the species does not warrant listing 
as either an endangered species or a threatened species.

Public Hearing

    Section 4(b)(5) of the Act provides for a public hearing on this 
proposal, if requested. For the immediate future, we will provide these 
public hearings using webinars that will be announced on the Service's 
website, in addition to the Federal Register. The use of these virtual 
public hearings is consistent with our regulations at 50 CFR 
424.16(c)(3). See DATES and ADDRESSES for information on a public 
hearing that we have scheduled for this rulemaking action.

Previous Federal Actions

    On October 2, 2013, we proposed to list the northern long-eared bat 
as an endangered species under the Act (78 FR 61046); please refer to 
that proposed rule for a detailed description of previous Federal 
actions concerning this species.
    On January 16, 2015, we proposed to create a 4(d) rule to provide 
measures that are necessary and advisable to provide for the 
conservation of the northern long-eared bat should we determine the 
species warrants listing as a threatened species under the Act (80 FR 
2371). That document also reopened the public comment period on the 
October 2, 2013, proposed rule for another 60 days, ending on March 17, 
2015.
    On April 2, 2015, we finalized a rule listing the northern long-
eared bat as a threatened species and established an interim 4(d) rule 
for the species (80 FR 17974). We solicited public comment on the 
interim 4(d) rule for 90 days, ending on July 1, 2015. On January 14, 
2016, we finalized the 4(d) rule for the northern long-eared bat (81 FR 
1900). On April 27, 2016, we published a not-prudent determination for 
critical habitat (81 FR 24707).
    A January 28, 2020, court order requires the Service to make a new 
listing decision for the northern long-eared bat (Center for Biological 
Diversity v. Everson, 435 F. Supp. 3d. 69 (D.D.C. 2020)). The court 
order remanded our April 2, 2015, listing decision (80 FR 17974) but 
did not vacate that rule. This document complies with the court order.

Supporting Documents

    A species status assessment (SSA) team prepared an SSA report for 
the northern long-eared bat (Service 2021, entire). The SSA report 
represents a compilation of the best scientific and commercial data 
available concerning the status of the species, including the impacts 
of past, present, and future factors (both negative and beneficial) 
affecting the species. In accordance with our joint policy on peer 
review published in the Federal Register on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), 
and our August 22, 2016, memorandum updating and clarifying the role of 
peer review of listing actions under the Act, we sought the expert 
opinions of five species experts regarding the SSA report. We received 
responses from three of the five experts. We also sent the SSA report 
to approximately 150 State, Federal, Tribal, and other (for example, 
nongovernmental organizations) partners with expertise in bat biology 
or threats to the species for review. We received reviews from 
approximately 35 partners.

Proposed Listing Determination

Background

    A thorough review of the taxonomy, life history, and ecology of the 
northern long-eared bat is presented in the SSA report (Service 2021, 
entire).
    The northern long-eared bat is a wide-ranging bat species found in 
37 States (Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, 
Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, 
Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, 
Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North 
Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, 
South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, 
and Wyoming), the District of Columbia, and 8 Canadian provinces. The 
species typically overwinters in caves or mines and spends the 
remainder of the year in forested habitats. As its name suggests, the 
northern long-eared bat is distinguished by its long ears, particularly 
as compared to other bats in its genus, Myotis. The bat is medium to 
dark brown on its back, with dark brown ears and wings, and tawny to 
pale-brown fur on its ventral side. Its weight ranges from 
approximately 5 to 8 grams (0.2 to 0.3 ounces). Female northern long-
eared bats produce a maximum of one pup per year;

[[Page 16444]]

therefore, loss of one pup results in missing one year of recruitment 
for a female.
    The individual, population-level, and species-level needs of the 
northern long-eared bat are summarized below in tables 1-3. For 
additional information, please see the SSA report (Service 2021, 
chapter 2).

 Table 1--The Ecological Requisites for Survival and Reproductive Success of Northern-Long-Eared Bat Individuals
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                    Season
         Life stage          -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                     Spring               Summer                Fall                Winter
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Pups (non-flying juveniles).  ...................  Roosting habitat
                                                    with suitable
                                                    conditions for
                                                    lactating females
                                                    and for pups to
                                                    stay warm and
                                                    protected from
                                                    predators while
                                                    adults are
                                                    foraging.
Juveniles...................  ...................  Other maternity      Suitable roosting    Habitat with
                                                    colony members       and foraging         suitable
                                                    (colony dynamics,    habitat near         conditions for
                                                    thermoregulation),   abundant food and    prolonged bouts of
                                                    and suitable         water resources.     torpor and
                                                    roosting and                              shortened periods
                                                    foraging habitat                          of arousal.
                                                    near abundant food
                                                    and water
                                                    resources.
All adults..................  Suitable roosting    Summer roosts and    Suitable roosting    Habitat with
                               and foraging         foraging habitat     and foraging         suitable
                               habitat near         near abundant food   habitat near         conditions for
                               abundant food and    and water            abundant food and    prolonged bouts of
                               water resources,     resources.           water resources,     torpor and
                               and habitat                               cave and/or mine     shortened periods
                               connectivity and                          entrances or other   of arousal.
                               open-air space for                        similar locations
                               safe migration                            (for example,
                               between winter and                        culvert, tunnel)
                               summer habitats.                          for conspecifics
                                                                         to swarm and mate,
                                                                         and habitat
                                                                         connectivity and
                                                                         open-air space for
                                                                         safe migration
                                                                         between winter and
                                                                         summer habitats.
Reproductive females........  ...................  Other maternity
                                                    colony members
                                                    (colony dynamics),
                                                    a network of
                                                    suitable roosts
                                                    (i.e., multiple
                                                    summer roosts in
                                                    close proximity)
                                                    near conspecifics,
                                                    and foraging
                                                    habitat near
                                                    abundant food and
                                                    water resources.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


 Table 2--Population-Level Requisites for a Healthy Northern Long-Eared
                             Bat Population
------------------------------------------------------------------------
               Parameter                           Requirements
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Population growth rate, [lgr]..........  At a minimum, [lgr] must be >=1
                                          for a population to remain
                                          stable over time.
Population size, N.....................  Sufficiently large N to allow
                                          for essential colony dynamics
                                          and to be adequately resilient
                                          to environmental fluctuations.
Winter roosting habitat................  Safe and stable winter roosting
                                          sites with suitable
                                          microclimates.
Migration habitat......................  Safe space to migrate between
                                          spring/fall habitat and winter
                                          roost sites.
Spring and fall roosting, foraging, and  A matrix of habitat of
 commuting (i.e., traveling between       sufficient quality and
 habitat types) habitat.                  quantity to support bats as
                                          they exit hibernation (lowest
                                          body condition) or as they
                                          enter hibernation (need to put
                                          on body fat).
Summer roosting, foraging, and           A matrix of habitat of
 commuting habitat.                       sufficient quality and
                                          quantity to support maternity
                                          colonies.
------------------------------------------------------------------------


   Table 3--Species-Level Ecology: Requisites for Long-Term Viability
  [Ability to maintain self-sustaining populations over a biologically
                          meaningful timeframe]
------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                  Requisites for
             3 Rs                   long-term           Description
                                    viability
------------------------------------------------------------------------
Resiliency (populations able    Healthy            Self-sustaining
 to withstand stochastic         populations        populations are
 events).                        across a           demographically,
                                 diversity of       genetically, and
                                 environmental      physiologically
                                 conditions.        robust, and have
                                                    enough suitable
                                                    habitat.
Redundancy (number and          Multiple and       Sufficient number and
 distribution of populations     sufficient         distribution of
 to withstand catastrophic       distribution of    populations to guard
 events).                        populations        against population
                                 within areas of    losses.
                                 unique variation
                                 (representation
                                 units).
Representation (genetic and     Maintain adaptive  Populations
 ecological diversity to         diversity of the   maintained across a
 maintain adaptive potential).   species.           range of behavioral,
                                                    physiological,
                                                    ecological, and
                                                    environmental
                                                    diversity.
                                Maintain           Maintain evolutionary
                                 evolutionary       drivers--gene flow,
                                 processes.         natural selection--
                                                    to mimic historical
                                                    patterns.
------------------------------------------------------------------------


[[Page 16445]]

Regulatory and Analytical Framework

Regulatory Framework

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing 
regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for determining 
whether a species is an endangered species or a threatened species. The 
Act defines an ``endangered species'' as a species that is in danger of 
extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and a 
``threatened species'' as a species that is likely to become an 
endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. The Act requires that we determine 
whether any species is an endangered species or a threatened species 
because of any of the following factors:
    (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range;
    (B) Overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes;
    (C) Disease or predation;
    (D) The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or
    (E) Other natural or manmade factors affecting its continued 
existence.
    These factors represent broad categories of natural or human-caused 
actions or conditions that could have an effect on a species' continued 
existence. In evaluating these actions and conditions, we look for 
those that may have a negative effect on individuals of the species, as 
well as other actions or conditions that may ameliorate any negative 
effects or may have positive effects.
    We use the term ``threat'' to refer in general to actions or 
conditions that are known to or are reasonably likely to negatively 
affect individuals of a species. The term ``threat'' includes actions 
or conditions that have a direct impact on individuals (direct 
impacts), as well as those that affect individuals through alteration 
of their habitat or required resources (stressors). The term ``threat'' 
may encompass--either together or separately--the source of the action 
or condition or the action or condition itself.
    However, the mere identification of any threat(s) does not 
necessarily mean that the species meets the statutory definition of an 
``endangered species'' or a ``threatened species.'' In determining 
whether a species meets either definition, we must evaluate all 
identified threats by considering the expected response by the species, 
and the effects of the threats--in light of those actions and 
conditions that will ameliorate the threats--on an individual, 
population, and species level. We evaluate each threat and its expected 
effects on the species, then analyze the cumulative effect of all of 
the threats on the species as a whole. We also consider the cumulative 
effect of the threats in light of those actions and conditions that 
will have positive effects on the species, such as any existing 
regulatory mechanisms or conservation efforts. The Secretary determines 
whether the species meets the definition of an ``endangered species'' 
or a ``threatened species'' only after conducting this cumulative 
analysis and describing the expected effect on the species now and in 
the foreseeable future.
    The Act does not define the term ``foreseeable future,'' which 
appears in the statutory definition of ``threatened species.'' Our 
implementing regulations at 50 CFR 424.11(d) set forth a framework for 
evaluating the foreseeable future on a case-by-case basis. The term 
``foreseeable future'' extends only so far into the future as the 
Service can reasonably determine that both the future threats and the 
species' responses to those threats are likely. In other words, the 
foreseeable future is the period of time in which we can make reliable 
predictions. ``Reliable'' does not mean ``certain''; it means 
sufficient to provide a reasonable degree of confidence in the 
prediction. Thus, a prediction is reliable if it is reasonable to 
depend on it when making decisions.
    It is not always possible or necessary to define foreseeable future 
as a particular number of years. Analysis of the foreseeable future 
uses the best scientific and commercial data available and should 
consider the timeframes applicable to the relevant threats and to the 
species' likely responses to those threats in view of its life-history 
characteristics. Data that are typically relevant to assessing the 
species' biological response include species-specific factors such as 
lifespan, reproductive rates or productivity, certain behaviors, and 
other demographic factors.

Analytical Framework

    The SSA report documents the results of our comprehensive 
biological review of the best scientific and commercial data regarding 
the status of the northern long-eared bat, including an assessment of 
the potential threats to the species. The SSA report does not represent 
a decision by the Service on whether the species should be proposed for 
listing as an endangered or threatened species under the Act. However, 
it does provide the scientific basis that informs our regulatory 
decisions, which involve the further application of standards within 
the Act and its implementing regulations and policies. The following is 
a summary of the key results and conclusions from the SSA report; the 
full SSA report can be found at Docket No. FWS-R3-ES-2021-0140 on 
https://www.regulations.gov.
    To assess the northern long-eared bat's viability, we used the 
three conservation biology principles of resiliency, redundancy, and 
representation (Shaffer and Stein 2000, pp. 306-310). Briefly, 
resiliency supports the ability of the species to withstand 
environmental and demographic stochasticity (for example, wet or dry or 
warm or cold years), redundancy supports the ability of the species to 
withstand catastrophic events (for example, droughts, large pollution 
events), and representation supports the ability of the species to 
adapt over time to long-term changes in the environment (for example, 
climate changes). In general, the more resilient and redundant a 
species is and the more representation it has, the more likely it is to 
sustain populations over time, even under changing environmental 
conditions. Using these principles, we identified the species' 
ecological requirements for survival and reproduction at the 
individual, population, and species levels, and described the 
beneficial and risk factors influencing the species' viability.
    The SSA process can be categorized into three sequential stages. 
During the first stage, we evaluated the individual species' life-
history needs. The next stage involved an assessment of the historical 
and current condition of the species' demographics and habitat 
characteristics, including an explanation of how the species arrived at 
its current condition. The final stage of the SSA involved making 
predictions about the species' responses to positive and negative 
environmental and anthropogenic influences. Throughout all of these 
stages, we used the best available information to characterize 
viability as the ability of a species to sustain populations in the 
wild over time. We use this information to inform our regulatory 
decision.

Summary of Biological Status and Threats

    In this discussion, we review the biological condition of the 
northern long-eared bat and its resources, and the threats that 
influence the species' current and future condition, in order to assess 
the species' overall viability and the risks to that viability. For a 
full description, see the SSA report (Service 2021, entire).

[[Page 16446]]

    Although there are other stressors affecting the northern long-
eared bat, the primary factor influencing its viability is white-nose 
syndrome (WNS), a disease of bats caused by a fungal pathogen. Some of 
the other factors that influence the northern long-eared bat's 
viability (though to a far lesser extent than the influence of WNS) 
include wind energy mortality, effects from climate change, and habitat 
loss. These stressors and their effects to the northern long-eared bat 
are summarized below:
     WNS has been the foremost stressor on the northern long-
eared bat for more than a decade. The fungus that causes the disease, 
Pseudogymnoascus destructans (Pd), invades the skin of bats. Infection 
leads to increases in the frequency and duration of arousals during 
hibernation and eventual depletion of fat reserves needed to survive 
winter, and results in mortality. Since its discovery in New York in 
2006, Pd has been confirmed (or presumed) in 37 States and 7 Canadian 
provinces. There is no known mitigation or treatment strategy to slow 
the spread of Pd or to treat WNS in bats. WNS has caused estimated 
northern long-eared bat population declines of 97-100 percent across 79 
percent of the species' range.
     Wind energy-related mortality of the northern long-eared 
bat is a stressor at local and regional levels, where northern long-
eared bat populations have been impacted by WNS. In 2020, northern 
long-eared bats were at risk from wind mortality in approximately 49 
percent of their range, based on the areas where wind turbines were in 
place and operating (using known northern long-eared bat occurrences, 
average migration distance, and the spatial distribution of wind 
turbines) (Service 2021, p. iv). Most bat mortality at wind energy 
projects is caused by direct collisions with moving turbine blades.
     Climate change variables, such as changes in temperature 
and precipitation, may influence the northern long-eared bat's resource 
needs, such as suitable roosting habitat for all seasons, foraging 
habitat, and prey availability. Although a changing climate may provide 
some benefit to the northern long-eared bat, overall negative impacts 
are anticipated, especially at local levels.
     Habitat loss (including but not limited to forest 
conversion or hibernacula disturbance or destruction) may include loss 
of suitable roosting or foraging habitat, resulting in longer flights 
between suitable roosting and foraging habitats due to habitat 
fragmentation, fragmentation of maternity colony networks, and direct 
injury or mortality. Loss or modification of winter roosts (i.e., 
making hibernaculum no longer suitable) can result in impacts to 
individuals or at the population level. However, habitat loss alone is 
not considered to be a key stressor at the species level, and habitat 
does not appear to be limiting.
    In evaluating current conditions of the northern long-eared bat, we 
used the best available data. Winter hibernacula counts provide the 
most consistent, long-term, reliable trend data and provide the most 
direct measure of WNS impacts. We also used summer data in evaluating 
population trends, although the availability and quality of summer data 
varies temporally and spatially.
    Available evidence, including both winter and summer data, 
indicates northern long-eared bat abundance has and will continue to 
decline substantially under current demographic and stressor 
conditions, primarily driven by the effects of WNS. As part of our 
assessment of the current condition of northern long-eared bat's 
representation, we identified and delineated the variation across the 
northern long-eared bat's range into geographical representation units 
(RPUs) using the following proxies: Variation in biological traits, 
genetic diversity, peripheral populations, habitat niche diversity, and 
steep environmental gradients.
    Winter abundance (from known hibernacula) has declined rangewide 
(49 percent) and declined across all but one RPU (declines range from 0 
to 90 percent). The number of extant winter colonies also declined 
rangewide (by 81 percent) and across all RPUs (40-88 percent). There 
has also been a noticeable shift towards smaller colony sizes, with a 
96-100 percent decline in the number of large hibernacula (>=100 
individuals) across the RPUs (figure 1.). We created projections 
(highest plausible and lowest plausible scenarios) for the species 
using its current condition and the current rates of mortality from WNS 
effects and wind energy. Rangewide abundance is projected to decline by 
95 percent and the spatial extent to decline by 75 percent from 
historical conditions by 2030. Declines continue to be driven by the 
catastrophic effects of WNS.

[[Page 16447]]

[GRAPHIC] [TIFF OMITTED] TP23MR22.000

    Declining trends in abundance and extent of occurrence are also 
evident across much of the northern long-eared bat's summer range. 
Rangewide occupancy has declined by 80 percent from 2010-2019. Data 
collected from mobile acoustic transects found a 79 percent decline in 
rangewide relative abundance from 2009-2019, and summer mist-net 
captures declined by 43-77 percent (across RPUs) compared to pre-WNS 
capture rates.
    As discussed above, multiple data types and analyses indicate 
downward trends in northern long-eared bat population abundance and 
distribution over the last 14 years, and the best available information 
indicates that this downward trend will continue. Northern long-eared 
bat abundance (winter and summer), number of occupied hibernacula, 
spatial extent, and summer habitat occupancy across the range and 
within all RPUs are decreasing. Since the occurrence of WNS, northern 
long-eared bat abundance has steeply declined, leaving populations with 
small numbers of individuals. At these low population sizes, colonies 
are vulnerable to extirpation from stochastic events and the 
deleterious effects of reduced population sizes such as limiting 
natural selection processes and decreased genetic diversity. 
Furthermore, small populations generally cannot rescue one another from 
such a depressed state because of the northern long-eared bat's low 
reproduction output (one pup per year) and its high philopatry (tending 
to return to a particular area). These inherent life-history traits 
limit the ability of populations to recover from low abundances. 
Consequently, effects of small population sizes exacerbate the effects 
of current and future declines due to continued exposure to WNS, 
mortality from wind turbines, and impacts associated with habitat loss 
and climate change.
    Therefore, northern long-eared bat's resiliency is greatly 
compromised in its current condition. Because northern long-eared bat's 
abundance and spatial extent have so dramatically declined, it has also 
become more vulnerable to catastrophic events. In other words, its 
redundancy has also declined dramatically. The steep and continued 
declines in abundance have likely led to reductions in genetic 
diversity, and thereby reduced northern long-eared bat adaptive 
capacity, and a decline in the species' overall representation. 
Moreover, at its current low abundance, loss of genetic diversity will 
likely accelerate. Consequently, limited natural selection processes 
and decreased genetic diversity will further lessen the species' 
ability to adapt to novel changes and exacerbate declines due to 
continued exposure to WNS, mortality from wind turbines, and impacts 
associated with habitat loss and climate change. Thus, even without 
further WNS spread and additional wind energy development (northern 
long-eared bat's current condition), its viability is likely to 
continue to rapidly decline over the next 10 years.
Future Condition
    As part of the SSA, we also developed two future condition 
scenarios to capture the range of uncertainties regarding future 
threats and the projected responses by the northern long-eared bat. Our 
scenarios included a plausible highest impact scenario and a plausible 
lowest impact scenario for each primary threat. Because we determined 
that the current condition of the northern long-eared bat is consistent 
with an endangered species (see Determination of Species Status, 
below), we are not presenting the results of the future scenarios in 
this proposed rule. Please refer to the SSA report (Service 2021) for 
the full analysis of future scenarios.
    We note that, by using the SSA framework to guide our analysis of 
the scientific information documented in the SSA report, we have not 
only analyzed individual effects on the species, but we have also 
analyzed their potential cumulative effects. We incorporate the 
cumulative effects into our SSA analysis when we characterize the 
current and future condition of the species. To assess the current and 
future condition of the species, we undertake an iterative analysis 
that encompasses and incorporates the threats individually and then 
accumulates and evaluates the effects of all the factors

[[Page 16448]]

that may be influencing the species, including threats and conservation 
efforts. Because the SSA framework considers not just the presence of 
the factors, but to what degree they collectively influence risk to the 
entire species, our assessment integrates the cumulative effects of the 
factors and replaces a standalone cumulative effects analysis.

Conservation Efforts and Regulatory Mechanisms

    Below is a brief description of conservation measures and 
regulatory mechanisms currently in place. Please see the SSA report for 
a more detailed description (Service 2021, Appendix 4).
    Multiple national and international efforts are underway in an 
attempt to reduce the impacts of WNS. Despite these efforts, there are 
no proven measures to reduce the severity of impacts of WNS. More than 
100 State and Federal agencies, Tribes, organizations, and institutions 
are engaged in this collaborative work to combat WNS and conserve 
affected bats. Partners from all 37 States in the northern long-eared 
bat's range, Canada, and Mexico are engaged in collaborations to 
conduct disease surveillance, population monitoring, and management 
actions in preparation for or response to WNS.
    To reduce bat fatalities, some wind facilities ``feather'' turbine 
blades (i.e., pitch turbine blades parallel with the prevailing wind 
direction to slow rotation speeds) at low wind speeds at times when 
bats are more likely to be present. The wind speed at which the turbine 
blades begin to generate electricity is known as the ``cut-in speed,'' 
and this can be set at the manufacturer's recommended speed or at a 
higher threshold, typically referred to as curtailment. The 
effectiveness of feathering below various cut-in speeds differs among 
sites and years (Arnett et al. 2013, entire; Berthinussen et al. 2021, 
pp. 94-106); nonetheless, most studies have shown all-bat (based on 
dead bats detected from all bat species) fatality reductions of greater 
than 50 percent associated with raising cut-in speeds by 1.0-3.0 meters 
per second (m/s) above the manufacturer's cut-in speed (Arnett et al. 
2013, entire; USFWS unpublished data). The effectiveness of curtailment 
at reducing fatality rates specifically for the northern long-eared bat 
has not been documented.
    All States have active forestry programs with a variety of goals 
and objectives. Several States have established habitat protection 
buffers around known Indiana bat hibernacula that will also serve to 
benefit other bat species by maintaining sufficient quality and 
quantity of swarming habitat. Some States conduct some of their forest 
management activities in the winter within known listed bat home ranges 
as a measure that would protect maternity colonies and non-volant (non-
flying) pups during summer months. Depending on the type and timing of 
activities, forest management can be beneficial to bat species (for 
example, maintaining or increasing suitable roosting and foraging 
habitat). Forest management that results in heterogeneous (including 
forest type, age, and structural characteristics) habitat may benefit 
tree-roosting bat species such as northern long-eared bat (Silvis et 
al. 2016, p. 37). Silvicultural practices can meet both male and female 
northern long-eared bats' roosting requirements by maintaining large-
diameter snags in early stages of decay, while allowing for 
regeneration of forests (Lacki and Schwierjohann 2001, p. 487).
    Many State and Federal agencies, conservation organizations, and 
land trusts have installed bat-friendly gates to protect important 
hibernation sites. All known hibernacula within national grasslands and 
forestlands of the Rocky Mountain Region of the U.S. Forest Service 
(USFS) are closed during the winter hibernation period, primarily due 
to the threat of WNS, although this will reduce disturbance to bats in 
general inhabiting these hibernacula (USFS 2013, unpaginated). Because 
of concern over the importance of bat roosts, including hibernacula, 
the American Society of Mammalogists developed guidelines for 
protection of roosts, many of which have been adopted by government 
agencies and special interest groups (Sheffield et al. 1992, p. 707). 
Also, regulations, such as the Federal Cave Resources Protection Act 
(16 U.S.C. 4301 et seq.), protect caves on Federal lands by limiting 
access to some caves, thereby reducing disturbance. Finally, many 
Indiana bat hibernacula have been gated, and some have been permanently 
protected via acquisition or easement, which provides benefits to other 
bats that also use the sites, including the northern long-eared bat.
    The northern long-eared bat is listed as endangered under Canada's 
Species at Risk Act (COSEWIC 2013, entire). In addition, the northern 
long-eared bat receives varying degrees of protection through State 
laws, which designate the species as endangered in 9 States (Arkansas, 
Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New 
Hampshire, and Vermont); as threatened in 10 States (Georgia, Illinois, 
Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, 
and Wisconsin); and as a species of special concern in 10 States 
(Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South 
Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming).

Determination of Northern Long-Eared Bat Status

    Section 4 of the Act (16 U.S.C. 1533) and its implementing 
regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth the procedures for determining 
whether a species meets the definition of an endangered species or a 
threatened species. The Act defines an ``endangered species'' as a 
species in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion 
of its range, and a ``threatened species'' as a species likely to 
become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout 
all or a significant portion of its range. The Act requires that we 
determine whether a species meets the definition of an endangered 
species or a threatened species because of any of the following 
factors: (A) The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) 
disease or predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory 
mechanisms; or (E) other natural or manmade factors affecting its 
continued existence.

Status Throughout All of Its Range

    WNS has been the foremost stressor on the northern long-eared bat 
for more than a decade and continues to be currently. The fungus that 
causes the disease, Pd, invades the skin of bats and leads to infection 
that increases the frequency and duration of arousals during 
hibernation that eventually deplete the fat reserves needed to survive 
winter and results in mortality. There is no known mitigation or 
treatment strategy to slow the spread of Pd or to treat WNS in bats. 
WNS has caused estimated northern long-eared bat population declines of 
97-100 percent across 79 percent of the species' range (Factor C). 
Winter abundance (from known hibernacula) has declined rangewide (49 
percent) and declined across all but one RPU (declines range from 0 to 
90 percent), and the number of extant winter colonies also declined 
rangewide (81 percent) and across all RPUs (40-88 percent). There has 
also been a noticeable shift towards smaller colony sizes, with a 96-
100 percent decline in the number of large hibernacula (>=100 
individuals). Rangewide summer occupancy has

[[Page 16449]]

declined by 80 percent from 2010-2019. Summer data collected from 
mobile acoustic transects found a 79 percent decline in rangewide 
relative abundance from 2009-2019, and summer mist-net captures 
declined by 43-77 percent (across RPUs) compared to pre-WNS capture 
rates. We created projections for the species using its current 
condition and the current rates of mortality from WNS effects and wind 
energy. Rangewide abundance is projected to decline by 95 percent and 
the spatial extent is projected to decline by 75 percent from 
historical conditions by 2030.
    As a result of these steep population declines, the northern long-
eared bat's resiliency is greatly compromised in its current condition. 
Because the northern long-eared bat's abundance and spatial extent 
substantially declined, its redundancy has decreased such that northern 
long-eared bats are more vulnerable to catastrophic events. The 
northern long-eared bat's representation has also been reduced, as the 
steep and continued declines in abundance have likely led to reductions 
in genetic diversity, and thereby reduced the northern long-eared bat's 
adaptive capacity. Further, the projected widespread reduction in the 
distribution of occupied hibernacula under current conditions will lead 
to losses in the diversity of environments and climatic conditions 
occupied, which will impede natural selection and further limit the 
northern long-eared bat's ability to adapt to changing environmental 
conditions. Moreover, at its current low abundance, loss of genetic 
diversity via genetic drift will likely accelerate. Consequently, 
limiting natural selection process and decreasing genetic diversity 
will further lessen the northern long-eared bat's ability to adapt to 
novel changes (currently ongoing as well as future changes) and 
exacerbate declines due to continued exposure to WNS and other 
stressors. Thus, even without further Pd spread and additional pressure 
from other stressors, the northern long-eared bat's viability has 
declined substantially and is expected to continue to rapidly decline 
over the near term.
    Current population trends and status indicate this species is 
currently in danger of extinction. The species continues to experience 
the catastrophic effects of WNS and the compounding effect of other 
stressors from which extinction is now a plausible outcome under the 
current conditions. Therefore, the species meets the Act's definition 
of an endangered species rather than of a threatened species. Thus, 
after assessing the best available information, we determine that the 
northern long-eared bat is in danger of extinction throughout all of 
its range.

Status Throughout a Significant Portion of Its Range

    Under the Act and our implementing regulations, a species may 
warrant listing if it is in danger of extinction or likely to become so 
in the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of 
its range. We have determined that the northern long-eared bat is in 
danger of extinction throughout all of its range and accordingly did 
not undertake an analysis of any significant portion of its range. 
Because the northern long-eared bat warrants listing as endangered 
throughout all of its range, our determination does not conflict with 
the decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. Everson, 2020 WL 
437289 (D.D.C. Jan. 28, 2020), because that decision related to 
significant portion of the range analyses for species that warrant 
listing as threatened, not endangered, throughout all of their range.

Determination of Status

    Our review of the best available scientific and commercial 
information indicates that the northern long-eared bat meets the Act's 
definition of an endangered species. Therefore, we propose to list the 
northern long-eared bat as an endangered species in accordance with 
sections 3(6) and 4(a)(1) of the Act.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened species under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
practices. Recognition through listing results in public awareness, and 
conservation by Federal, State, Tribal, and local agencies, private 
organizations, and individuals. The Act encourages cooperation with the 
States and other countries and calls for recovery actions to be carried 
out for listed species. The protection required by Federal agencies and 
the prohibitions against certain activities are discussed, in part, 
below.
    The primary purpose of the Act is the conservation of endangered 
and threatened species and the ecosystems upon which they depend. The 
ultimate goal of such conservation efforts is the recovery of these 
listed species, so that they no longer need the protective measures of 
the Act. Section 4(f) of the Act calls for the Service to develop and 
implement recovery plans for the conservation of endangered and 
threatened species. The recovery planning process involves the 
identification of actions that are necessary to halt or reverse the 
species' decline by addressing the threats to its survival and 
recovery. The goal of this process is to restore listed species to a 
point where they are secure, self-sustaining, and functioning 
components of their ecosystems.
    Recovery planning consists of preparing draft and final recovery 
plans, beginning with the development of a recovery outline, and making 
it available to the public within 30 days of a final listing 
determination. The recovery outline guides the immediate implementation 
of urgent recovery actions and describes the process to be used to 
develop a recovery plan. Revisions of the plan may be done to address 
continuing or new threats to the species, as new substantive 
information becomes available. The recovery plan also identifies 
recovery criteria for review of when a species may be ready for 
reclassification from endangered to threatened (``downlisting'') or 
removal from protected status (``delisting''), and methods for 
monitoring recovery progress. Recovery plans also establish a framework 
for agencies to coordinate their recovery efforts and provide estimates 
of the cost of implementing recovery tasks. Recovery teams (composed of 
species experts, Federal and State agencies, nongovernmental 
organizations, and stakeholders) are often established to develop 
recovery plans. When completed, the recovery outline, draft recovery 
plan, and the final recovery plan will be available on our website 
(https://www.fws.gov/species/northern-bat-myotis-septentrionalis), or 
from our Minnesota Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Implementation of recovery actions generally requires the 
participation of a broad range of partners, including other Federal 
agencies, States, Tribes, nongovernmental organizations, businesses, 
and private landowners. Examples of recovery actions include habitat 
restoration (for example, restoration of native vegetation), research, 
captive propagation and reintroduction, and outreach and education. The 
recovery of many listed species cannot be accomplished solely on 
Federal lands because their range may occur primarily or solely on non-
Federal lands. To achieve recovery of these species requires 
cooperative conservation efforts on private, State, and Tribal lands.
    For listed species, funding for recovery actions is available from 
a

[[Page 16450]]

variety of sources, including Federal budgets, State programs, and 
cost-share grants for non-Federal landowners, the academic community, 
and nongovernmental organizations. In addition, pursuant to section 6 
of the Act, the States of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, 
Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, 
Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, 
Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, 
North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South 
Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, 
Wisconsin, and Wyoming will continue to be eligible for Federal funds 
to implement management actions that promote the protection or recovery 
of the northern long-eared bat. Information on our grant programs that 
are available to aid species recovery can be found at: https://www.fws.gov/grants.
    Please let us know if you are interested in participating in 
recovery efforts for this species. Additionally, we invite you to 
submit any new information on this species whenever it becomes 
available and any information you may have for recovery planning 
purposes (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).
    Section 7(a) of the Act requires Federal agencies to evaluate their 
actions with respect to any species that is proposed or listed as an 
endangered or threatened species and with respect to its critical 
habitat, if any is designated. Regulations implementing this 
interagency cooperation provision of the Act are codified at 50 CFR 
part 402. Section 7(a)(4) of the Act requires Federal agencies to 
confer with the Service on any action that is likely to jeopardize the 
continued existence of a species proposed for listing or result in 
destruction or adverse modification of proposed critical habitat. If a 
species is listed subsequently, section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires 
Federal agencies to ensure that activities they authorize, fund, or 
carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the 
species or destroy or adversely modify its critical habitat. If a 
Federal action may affect a listed species or its critical habitat, the 
responsible Federal agency must enter into consultation with the 
Service.
    Federal agency actions within the species' habitat that may require 
conference or consultation or both as described in the preceding 
paragraph include, but are not limited to, management and any other 
landscape-altering activities on Federal lands administered by the U.S. 
Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land 
Management, National Park Service, and other Federal agencies; issuance 
of section 404 Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.) permits by the 
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; and construction and maintenance of roads 
or highways by the Federal Highway Administration.
    The Act and its implementing regulations set forth a series of 
general prohibitions and exceptions that apply to endangered wildlife. 
The prohibitions of section 9(a)(1) of the Act, codified at 50 CFR 
17.21, make it illegal for any person subject to the jurisdiction of 
the United States to take (which includes harass, harm, pursue, hunt, 
shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect; or to attempt any of 
these) endangered wildlife within the United States or on the high 
seas. In addition, it is unlawful to import; export; deliver, receive, 
carry, transport, or ship in interstate or foreign commerce in the 
course of commercial activity; or sell or offer for sale in interstate 
or foreign commerce any species listed as an endangered species. It is 
also illegal to possess, sell, deliver, carry, transport, or ship any 
such wildlife that has been taken illegally. Certain exceptions apply 
to employees of the Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, 
other Federal land management agencies, and State conservation 
agencies.
    We may issue permits to carry out otherwise prohibited activities 
involving endangered wildlife under certain circumstances. Regulations 
governing permits are codified at 50 CFR 17.22. With regard to 
endangered wildlife, a permit may be issued for the following purposes: 
For scientific purposes, to enhance the propagation or survival of the 
species, and for incidental take in connection with otherwise lawful 
activities. The statute also contains certain exemptions from the 
prohibitions, which are found in sections 9 and 10 of the Act.
    It is our policy, as published in the Federal Register on July 1, 
1994 (59 FR 34272), to identify to the maximum extent practicable at 
the time a species is listed, those activities that would or would not 
constitute a violation of section 9 of the Act. The intent of this 
policy is to increase public awareness of the effect of a proposed 
listing on proposed and ongoing activities within the range of the 
species proposed for listing.
    At this time, we are unable to identify specific activities that 
would not be considered to result in a violation of section 9 of the 
Act because the northern long-eared bat occurs in a variety of habitat 
conditions across its range and it is likely that site-specific 
conservation measures may be needed for activities that may directly or 
indirectly affect the species.
    Based on the best available information, the following activities 
may potentially result in a violation of section 9 of the Act if they 
are not authorized in accordance with applicable law; this list is not 
comprehensive:
    (1) Unauthorized collecting, handling, possessing, selling, 
delivering, carrying, or transporting of the species, including import 
or export across State lines and international boundaries, except for 
properly documented antique specimens of these taxa at least 100 years 
old, as defined by section 10(h)(1) of the Act.
    (2) Incidental take of the species without authorization pursuant 
to section 7 or section 10(a)(1)(B) of the Act.
    (3) Disturbance or destruction (or otherwise making a hibernaculum 
no longer suitable) of known hibernacula due to commercial or 
recreational activities during known periods of hibernation.
    (4) Unauthorized destruction or modification of suitable forested 
habitat (including unauthorized grading, leveling, burning, herbicide 
spraying, or other destruction or modification of habitat) in ways that 
kills or injures individuals by significantly impairing the species' 
essential breeding, foraging, sheltering, commuting, or other essential 
life functions.
    (5) Unauthorized removal or destruction of trees and other natural 
and manmade structures being used as roosts by the northern long-eared 
bat that results in take of the species.
    (6) Unauthorized release of biological control agents that attack 
any life stage of this taxon.
    (7) Unauthorized removal or exclusion from buildings or artificial 
structures being used as roost sites by the species, resulting in take 
of the species.
    (8) Unauthorized building and operation of wind energy facilities 
within areas used by the species, which results in take of the species.
    (9) Unauthorized discharge of chemicals, fill, or other materials 
into sinkholes, which may lead to contamination of known northern long-
eared bat hibernacula.
    Questions regarding whether specific activities would constitute a 
violation of section 9 of the Act should be directed to the Minnesota 
Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT).

[[Page 16451]]

Effects of This Rule

    If this rule is adopted as proposed, it would reclassify the 
northern long-eared bat from a threatened species to an endangered 
species on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. It would 
also remove the species-specific section 4(d) rule for the northern 
long-eared bat, because 4(d) rules apply only to species listed as 
threatened species under the Act. The Act's full suite of prohibitions 
and exceptions to those prohibitions for endangered species (see 
sections 9 and 10 of the Act) would then apply to the northern long-
eared bat.

Public Hearings

    We have scheduled a public informational meeting with a public 
hearing on this proposed rule for the northern long-eared bat. We will 
hold the public informational meeting and public hearing on the date 
and time listed above under Public informational meeting and public 
hearing in DATES. We are holding the public informational meeting and 
public hearing via the Zoom online video platform and via 
teleconference so that participants can attend remotely. For security 
purposes, registration is required. To listen and view the meeting and 
hearing via Zoom, listen to the meeting and hearing by telephone, or 
provide oral public comments at the public hearing by Zoom or 
telephone, you must register. For information on how to register, or if 
you encounter problems joining Zoom the day of the meeting, visit 
https://www.fws.gov/species/northern-bat-myotis-septentrionalis. 
Registrants will receive the Zoom link and the telephone number for the 
public informational meeting and public hearing. If applicable, 
interested members of the public not familiar with the Zoom platform 
should view the Zoom video tutorials (https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206618765-Zoom-video-tutorials) prior to the public 
informational meeting and public hearing.
    The public hearing will provide interested parties an opportunity 
to present verbal testimony (formal, oral comments) regarding this 
proposed rule. While the public informational meeting will be an 
opportunity for dialogue with the Service, the public hearing is not: 
It is a forum for accepting formal verbal testimony. In the event there 
is a large attendance, the time allotted for oral statements may be 
limited. Therefore, anyone wishing to make an oral statement at the 
public hearing for the record is encouraged to provide a prepared 
written copy of their statement to us through the Federal eRulemaking 
Portal, or U.S. mail (see ADDRESSES, above). There are no limits on the 
length of written comments submitted to us. Anyone wishing to make an 
oral statement at the public hearing must register before the hearing 
https://www.fws.gov/species/northern-bat-myotis-septentrionalis. The 
use of a virtual public hearing is consistent with our regulations at 
50 CFR 424.16(c)(3).

Required Determinations

Clarity of the Rule

    We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the 
Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain 
language. This means that each rule we publish must:
    (1) Be logically organized;
    (2) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
    (3) Use clear language rather than jargon;
    (4) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
    (5) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
    If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us 
comments by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. To better help us 
revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as possible. For 
example, you should tell us the numbers of the sections or paragraphs 
that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences are too long, 
the sections where you feel lists or tables would be useful, etc.

National Environmental Policy Act (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.)

    We have determined that environmental assessments and environmental 
impact statements, as defined under the authority of the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA; 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), need not be 
prepared in connection with listing a species as an endangered or 
threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. We published a 
notice outlining our reasons for this determination in the Federal 
Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244). This position was upheld by 
the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (Douglas County v. 
Babbitt, 48 F.3d 1495 (9th Cir. 1995), cert. denied 516 U.S. 1042 
(1996)).

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994 
(Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments; 59 FR 22951), Executive Order 13175 (Consultation and 
Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments), and the Department of the 
Interior's manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our 
responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal 
Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with 
Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Rights, 
Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act), 
we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to work directly with 
Tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to acknowledge 
that Tribal lands are not subject to the same controls as Federal 
public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian culture, and to make 
information available to Tribes. We solicited information, provided 
updates, and invited participation in the SSA process in emails sent to 
Tribes, nationally, in April 2020 and November 2020. We will continue 
to work with Tribal entities during the development of the northern 
long-eared bat final listing determination.

References Cited

    A complete list of references cited in this rulemaking is available 
on the internet at https://www.regulations.gov and upon request from 
the Minnesota Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office (see FOR 
FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT).

Authors

    The primary authors of this proposed rule are staff members of the 
Fish and Wildlife Service's Species Assessment Team and the Minnesota 
Wisconsin Ecological Services Field Office.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:

PART 17--ENDANGERED AND THREATENED WILDLIFE AND PLANTS

0
1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 1531-1544; and 4201-4245, unless 
otherwise noted.

0
2. Amend Sec.  17.11, in paragraph (h), by revising the entry for 
``Bat, northern long-eared'' under MAMMALS in the

[[Page 16452]]

List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife to read as follows:


Sec.  17.11  Endangered and threatened wildlife.

* * * * *
    (h) * * *

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                                        Listing citations and
          Common name            Scientific name      Where listed       Status           applicable rules
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Mammals
 
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
Bat, northern long-eared......  Myotis             Wherever found...  E             80 FR 17973, 4/2/2015;
                                 septentrionalis.                                    [Federal Register citation
                                                                                     when published as a final
                                                                                     rule].
 
                                                  * * * * * * *
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sec.  17.40  [Amended]

0
3. Amend Sec.  17.40 by removing and reserving paragraph (o).

Signing Authority

    The Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, approved this 
document and authorized the undersigned to sign and submit the document 
to the Office of the Federal Register for publication electronically as 
an official document of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Martha 
Williams, Director, approved this document on March 18, 2022, for 
publication.

Madonna Baucum,
Regulations and Policy Chief, Division of Policy, Risk Management, and 
Analytics of the Joint Administrative Operations, U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2022-06168 Filed 3-22-22; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 4333-15-P