Wildlife and Habitats – by John Lanier, Wildlife Biologist
The Atlantic Coast Joint Venture (ACJV) set common goals for bird conservation in the Atlantic Flyway. ACJV has grouped much of the North American Atlantic Coast into Bird Conservation Regions (BCR). These BCRs are considered by most biologists a standard foundation for wildlife conservation work. The DTW tool recognizes Bird Conservation Region 14 (BCR14), which includes lands from Northwestern Connecticut to the Gulf of St Lawrence. The only portion of New Hampshire that does not fall within BCR14 is its coastal area.
The Technical Guide to Forest Wildlife Habitat Management in New England (DeGraaf et.al, 2007) lists 330 wildlife species applicable to BCR14. This list varies from salamanders to moose and everything in between. Over 90 of these have been identified as Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) in one or more of the Wildlife Action Plans in the New England states. Each of these species show breeding preference for one or more of 21 forest types that are incorporated in this tool. Each wildlife species is assigned to the forest type(s) it prefers for breeding. It is recognized that some wildlife species may use other types for breeding but this tool intends to identify the most important ones.
Recommendations are provided for each of the 90+ SGCN. In some cases, such as woodcock, golden-winged warbler, bald eagle and New England cottontail, the recommendations were developed by working groups. However, for most of these species, recommendations were developed based on the best available knowledge by individuals working on this tool. These recommended practices are basic and the expectation is to improve them as knowledge of the special habitat requirements for each SGCN species changes.
All forest management decisions are now required to consider impacts on bats. Six out of the nine species of bats in BCR14 are non-migratory and their populations are being severely impacted by a disease known as White Nose Syndrome (WNS). BCR 14 is right in the middle of the WNS Zone as delineated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Two of these non-migratory species have Federal status under the Endangered Species Act. The Indiana bat is listed as Endangered, and the northern long-eared bat is listed as Threatened. The other four could possibly become listed federally and are listed in several states within BCR 14. The Indiana bat is, at present, confined to the Champlain Valley in Vermont. The northern long-eared bat, however, is present all through BCR 14 according to various studies using bat detectors (they record vocalizations and species, or species groups that can be identified due to the unique frequencies of their calls). The other species are also present across BCR14, with migratory bats hibernating outside of BCR 14. All these species feed on insects captured over forested canopies, wetlands, water bodies and non-forested openings such as fields. Most roost in hollow trees, under shaggy bark of a variety of tree species, by hanging off tree branches or in buildings. They are not fussy about which forest type they hunt over or through, and do not seem to be very selective about where they roost although some like it warmer than others do.
The bottom line is that these bats can be all over the place and can be impacted by forest management activities unless they are hibernating. Even then, the forested conditions around where they hibernate can be adversely modified by forest management activities. The forested conditions around their hibernacula are where they gather just prior to hibernation (known as swarming) to breed and just following hibernation in the spring (known as staging).
BEFORE IMPLEMENTING ANY PROJECT THE FOLLOWING MUST BE CONSIDERED
First, contact your state wildlife agency to find out if there are known hibernacula or recorded roost trees or other habitat concerns in or near the project. There are federal regulations governing the Indiana and northern long-eared bats and there may be other state regulations as well.
If it turns out that either the Indiana or northern-long-eared bat may be affected by the project, and there are federal funds supporting the project, then rule 4d under the Endangered Species Act comes in to play. The Rule 4d process (January 13, 2016) is presented here. We recommend that the 4d rule process be followed for every project, federally funded or not. This step down process was developed for the mid-west but it applies equally in BCR 14. The Key to the Northern Long-Eared Bat 4(d) Rule for Non-Federal Activities linked here is a critical step in completing any successful forest management plan and is a required consideration of the DTW process.