Both the Little Brown and Northern Long-eared bats are in the process of being reviewed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for being listed as endangered. They have found that listing is warranted, which is a mid-level step in the process. We're in the public comment period now.
PA Game Commission pushed for state listing as well. One of their arguments for state listing was that state listing is potentially less onerous on landowners, homeowners, developers, foresters, etc. than federal listing.
However, the PA forest industry fought back hard and used their legislative contacts to block the effort.
The federal listing proposal, particularly for the Northern Long-eared bat, is running into resistance in other states, frequently from the forest industry.
In truth, it's not necessarily just the listing that causes concerns for those industries, per se, but rather how the state or USFWS implements the protections listing affords. For example, they will need to define what geographic area is covered by the listing. It may be the entire country, or a region. Then, what specifically gets protected: hibernacula, summer roosts, feeding areas, etc.
In the broadest sense, if the Northern Long-eared bat prefers a certain type of forest for the entire summer, the logging and forest products industry is concerned that whole forests could be shut down for their entire economic productivity season. On the other hand, the wildlife managers could decide to set aside smaller areas, certain types of trees (such as snags preferred by Indiana bats), etc.
Most of the reaction by advocates on both sides of the issue at this point seems to be taking positions in broad strokes. In reality, the devil will be in the details.
Continuing to use the Indiana bat as an example, USFWS has categorized Indiana bat hibernacula in different levels. "Significant" hibernacula are over a certain colony size, and there is a declining level of importance given in the ranking system. Protections are higher for places with higher rank.
Also important will be the recovery plan. What are its goals? How will they be measured?
The Northern Long-eared bat poses difficulties in defining both significant habitat and also recovery goals, as its baseline population numbers are not well-documented. This is, in part, due to its hibernating habits, for example, where it tends to be solitary and prefers tight cracks and drill holes in mines, making it extremely difficult to know how many there really are (or were).
One final point: while state listing of these species has been quickly done by any number of states (Vermont, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and others), that process is far less rigorous than the federal listing process under the Endangered Species Act. Indeed, the ESA requires a balance of biological and commercial interests, as reflected in the requirement that both the Secretary of the Interior (under whom the USFWS falls) and the Secretary of Commerce must sign off before it goes into effect.
What we're seeing now is this regulatory process playing out, with interested parties all commenting along the way, including making their cases in the public media, as well as with political allies.
Personally, I don't fear either state or federal listing, per se. Again, the devil is in the details. When Vermont proposed listing (and later approved it), cavers here were involved in the process. We work closely with our state Fish and Wildlife folks on bat counts and have been intimately involved in the WNS situation all along. State listing here has changed little, except to more strongly underscore staying out of caves and mines where bats may be present during the hibernation season. We always knew to do that, but now it's more widely broadcast to the general public. This has resulted in less winter caving by adventure groups, cave-for-pay, and others outside the usual caver networks. That's a good thing. We've seen no changes to forest practices, and homeowners have been fantastically engaged with state wildlife officials on monitoring maternity colonies in manmade structures, putting up bat houses, and following good exclusion techniques (such as waiting until the young bat have become volant (able to fly)). We all value our bats, for the unique creatures that they are and for the ecological benefits they provide. But we also understand that protecting them doesn't necessarily require onerous restrictions on a variety of activities.
Yes, there are zealous advocates on all sides pushing for extreme positions, but those rarely succeed
Listing itself won't change whether or not bats get WNS, but it can help devastated populations recover by affording protections where they previously didn't exist. The particulars of those protections and enforcement are always a balancing act. The ESA process is designed to air all points of view and arrive at the proper balance for the particular species. The downside is when that process becomes overly politicized, as that tends to overwhelm both science and common sense.
My two cents.