Bats are and always have been a part of human existence for as long as we’ve been walking the Earth. Ever since early hunter-gatherer Man encountered bats in caves, our two species have been coexisting fairly successfully.
Every now and again, bats will establish a roost in an abandoned building, mineshaft, or some other manmade structure. When humans return to these places—whether to explore or rehabilitate them—they often find that they must contend with bats by either relocating them or eliminating them.
Because of the inevitable encounters that we’re going to have with bats, it’s important to know what the laws are regarding their federal protection status. In this article, we’re going to forego a discussion about state laws in favor of the topic of federal laws that specifically protect bats. Knowing what these laws are and where they apply will help to keep you out of hot water with the government.
Photo Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife on Flickr
Six Bats Are Protected By Federal Law
Two pieces of legislation are chiefly responsible for the federal bat protection laws that are currently in place. These are the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act of 1956. Because of these two acts, a total of six bat species comprise the full list of federally protected bats.
The Bat Species That Are Protected By Federal Law Are:
- The Northern Long-Eared Bat
- The Indiana Bat
- The Grey Bat
- The Florida Bonneted Bat
- The Virginia Big-Eared Bat
- The Ozark Big-Eared Bat
It’s important to distinguish the difference between an animal being considered threatened, federally protected and being classified as endangered. A species that is considered endangered by the USGS or other federal organization will almost always have a coordinating law that can be enforced to punish those who kill or destroy the habitats of said animals.
However, threatened or imperiled species will often not be protected by a federal law, although their livelihoods could very well be at risk for endangerment in the near future.
Why Protect Bats at All?
Due to the common misconception that bats are nothing more than pesky, flying rodents (they’re actually mammals!), many people view bats as a nuisance. So, why should they be protected by any laws whatsoever, let alone federal ones?
Well, it’s important to remember that bats play a key role in the functioning of our ecosystem. They are responsible for managing entire insect populations, and bats are absolutely crucial to the pollination and germination of many types of plants.
Need another good reason to respect the bat? How about this: some bat species are known to eat up to 3,000 mosquitos per day. Because bats play such an instrumental part in maintaining the delicate balance within nature, it makes sense to ensure that their numbers are protected.
Implications for Pest Control Companies
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 includes specific verbiage that relates to federal permitting requirements for pest control companies that will invariably find themselves having to relocate or eliminate many different bat species.
Sections 7 and 9 of the Act go into explicit detail pertaining to just what can and cannot be done by individuals or organizations when it comes to handling, removing, or relocating protected bat species. Violation of these provisions is considered a breach of federal law, something which can result in a felony conviction if the offense is serious enough.
Thankfully, most pest control organizations play by the rules and respect the animals that they are hired to remove, relocate, or eliminate. Those who do not can and will be held to the full force of the law.
What to Do If You Come Across a Federally Protected Bat
Many bat enthusiasts can easily identify an Indiana Bat and tell the difference between it and, say, the Little Brown Bat, which is not a federally protected bat species. Identifying traits of bats often lie in the shape of their nose, wings, tail, or even their hunting and foraging preferences.
However, not all of us are as well-versed in bat identification. And so, it’s a good rule-of-thumb to not disrupt or disturb any bats that are found in the wild or even in inhabited buildings. Always consult with a qualified professional who can safely identify, relocate, and humanely treat whatever bats are encountered.
Bats that are hibernating are especially vulnerable to the impact that humans can have on their livelihood. This is because, when they hibernate, bats are in a suspended state of biological functioning known as ‘torpor’, a state that makes them very prone to anything that could cause them harm. So, if you ever encounter a colony of bats in hibernation, take extra care to not disrupt them.
Federal laws that protect endangered species are in place for a reason. They are there to ensure that there are penalties associated with killing or destroying the habitat of any animal that is facing the imminent threat of extinction.
By abiding by these laws and doing your part to help protect bats, we can all rest assured that the future will be bright for us and our winged mammal friends!