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Forestry and Wildlife Managers Collaborate on ‘Best Practices’ for Endangered Species

Minnesota’s woodlands are home to a species called the Northern Long-eared Bat. The bat was designated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service as a species of ‘special concern’ in Minnesota in 1984, and eventually was designated as federally endangered in November 2022.


The state’s forests are important to these bats, and other bat species. They spend summers in the woods - consuming insects at night and roosting in tree cavities during the day. This is also the season during which the bats give birth to, and rear their young.


The bats are feared to be facing demise as their populations have experienced significant declines over the past decade due to a disease called “White Nose Syndrome (WNS). The fungal disease impacts them during their winter hibernation, causing them to wake during the cold winter and starve. Primarily as a result of the disease, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the number of Northern Long-eared Bats has declined by a dramatic 97-100% in affected populations across its range.  


In September 2023, foresters and wildlife managers from across northern Minnesota gathered for a workshop and field tour focused on forestry practices relative to the now-designated  ‘endangered’ Northern Long-eared Bat species.


The gathering was organized by the University of Minnesota’s Sustainable Forests Education Cooperative (UMN-SFEC)  to take place in Aitkin and Carlton counties, and was specific to forestry practices that could enhance the survival and health of this forest species. The counties were chosen for the field tour as their land departments have been proactive in developing a cooperative Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the Northern Long-eared bat and two other bat species.


Participants visited an aspen regeneration harvest in Carlton County where a bat roost tree had been identified during bat surveys. Carlton County Forest Manager Mark Westphal retained a 150-foot no-cut buffer around the tree. As well, several other reserve patches were retained and the planned-for harvest was conducted after the “non-volant” period. This is the time when young bats are unable to fly.


At a field stop in Aitkin County, participants studied a management practice where Aitkin County Forester Kinzer Hill had designed an aspen/hardwood regeneration harvest where several no-cut “reserve patches” were established. The area included trees with characteristics suitable for potential bat roost trees.


Members of the field tour also held a discussion focused on the Aitkin/Carlton County HCP. The HCP is a required document for forestry activities if a forest-dependent species, such as the Northern Long-eared Bat, is designated as ‘endangered.’ The two counties proactively developed their HCP prior to the endangered label because of what they were seeing in the woods. In cooperation with Dovetail Partners Inc,, counties had conducted forest bat surveys on lands they manage from 2014-2019. Their findings showed that, prior to WNS, forest bat populations were healthy. Once WNS arrived in Minnesota, significant declines were taking place.


This triggered the counties to proactively develop the HCP. Provisions in the plan are based on the counties’ respective current forest management plans and include seasonal harvest modifications and tree retention guidelines to protect current, and provide for future roost trees. The plan was approved by the US Fish & Wildlife Service prior to the bat’s endangered designation.


While conservation plans and resultant forestry activities are invaluable in regards to the health and sustainability of wildlife species (and the forests that provide their habitat!), the value of melding forestry and wildlife interests and perspectives, across a landscape of public and private land ownership and management, cannot be overestimated.


In a follow up survey to the tour, respective participants noted the valuable conversations occurring throughout the day, as well as the demonstrated cooperation between the counties. Multiple foresters indicated they would directly use the information from the tour when managing their woodlands, and would relay information learned to other landowners.


Melissa Boman, mammal specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, perhaps summarized the day best:


“I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn how forestry practices can work in tandem with wildlife managers to benefit imperiled species. Accomplishing objectives for both industry and conservation will require collaborative relationships and creative thinking. Workshops like this put on by UMN-SFEC provides opportunity for forming some of those relationships and generating great discussions between folks with a variety of expertise and goals for the landscape. Diving into those nuances is important for moving conservation forward.” 

Written by Mark Jacobs and Kathleen Preece, with contributions from Lane Moser 

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