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Proposed bat protection plan could hamstring timber industry (UPDATE)

northern long-eared bat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to add the bat to the endangered species list because of a fungus called white-nose syndrome that is killing bats in the eastern U.S. The Black Hills timber industry in western South Dakota could suffer irreparable damage if the northern long-eared bat is added to the list of endangered species, according to the Black Hills Forest Resource Association, a nonprofit trade group. (AP Photo/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, File)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to add the northern long-eared bat to the endangered species list. (AP File Photo/Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin officials and timber industry representatives are trying to determine how to save the dwindling northern long-eared bat population while limiting the economic impact of preservation efforts.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed protections for the bat, including adding it to the endangered species list, that would affect nearly 40 states, Press-Gazette Media reports. Bats have been dying by the millions in recent years from white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease discovered in 2006.

Federal regulations intended to protect the bats could restrict the timber industry from logging trees where the bats live during a 30- to 45-day period in the summer.

“The dead and dying trees are the ones the bats have an affinity for,” said Pete Fasbender of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Normal timber practices, cutting healthy trees — that won’t be an issue.”

The suggested limitations might be enforced from April to October, which has raised concerns among people in the timber industry who say that timeframe is needed for logging activities. Industry professionals said during a Monday meeting that they could lose tens of billions of dollars annually.

“If this were to happen like the worst-case scenario, it would give us about two months out of the year where we could really log,” said Scott Sawle, who owns of Rockbridge Sawmill Inc. “You can’t log a mill in two months out of the year.”

He and some of his timber industry peers hope to work with government officials to protect the bat in a way that doesn’t cause economic damage.

“We know the bats are needed — they do a good job — but to go after our industry, when we’re not even the cause of the problem?” he said. “They’ve got a disease. Work on that disease.”

Advocates are most concerned about the loss of bats in June and July, when young bats who were recently born are most at risk, according to Fasbender.

The service is scheduled to announce a final decision on protection efforts in April.

Information from: Press-Gazette Media, http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com

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