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Lawsuit by environmental groups launched to protect critical habitat for the Florida bonneted bat, again

Florida Bonnetted Bat.jpg
Kathleen Smith/Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
A trio of Florida environmental groups plan to sue to the federal Fish and Wildlife Service for not designating a 10.5-million-acre protected habitat for the endangered Florida bonneted bat, the largest and loudest in the state and the rarest bat in the nation

For a second time a trio of South Florida environmental agencies are planning to sue the federal Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to designate a 10.5-million-acre safe haven for the endangered Florida bonneted bat. The creature is the largest bat in the state and the rarest one in the nation, and is at grave risk of being wiped out by a changing planet.

“Florida bonneted bats cannot survive the onslaught of sea-level rise, development and pesticide use in South Florida unless their habitat is protected,” Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said Monday. “The service needs to protect these bats’ homes from sprawl.”

In 2013, the first piece of litigation by the Center for Biological Diversity forced the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate the nearly extinct Florida bonneted bats as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The Tropical Audubon Society and the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association joined Lopez’s group in the formal notice Monday. The conservation groups had teamed up in the second a lawsuit to compel Fish and Wildlife to propose critical habitat. However, the agency has yet to finalize its proposal for the 1.5 million acres of federally-designated critical habitat in ten South Florida counties. Monday’s notice claims the upcoming lawsuit will force Fish and Wildlife to stop any foot-dragging and designate the critical habitat as required.

Florida bonneted bats roost in tree cavities and on artificial structures and forage for insects over open spaces like wetlands and lakes. There are 26 known colonies of bats on 11 roost sites. Just one foot of sea-level rise will inundate four of the roosts.

The bat is named for the large ears that project over their eyes like a bonnet. It also holds the distinction of being one of the loudest bats in flight.

Populations of animals with federally protected critical habitat are more than twice as likely as to be growing than species without it.

Dennis Olle, president of the Miami Blue Chapter of the North American Butterfly Association, said his group has joined the cause not only to show support but also because two species of threatened butterflies inhabit the same pine rockland that would become protected habitat for the bats.

Messages left during business hours at the Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C., were not returned for comment.

“The protection of this Florida endemic species can only be ensured if its critical habitat is designated, a measure that is long overdue,” said Paola Ferreira, executive director of Tropical Audubon Society. “This iconic bat deserves the protections granted by the Endangered Species Act — protections it will need to face the multiple threats to its very survival.”

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, accelerating change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health.