A new federal strategy will help facilitate conservation of the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat while delivering road projects faster.
“Bats, in general, play a really important role in our ecosystems,” said Julianne Schwarzer, an environmental protection specialist who led the Volpe team that worked on the strategy.
As pollinators and insect consumers, bats generate $3 billion each year in economic value for U.S. agriculture and forestry industries.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Railroad Administration, and Federal Transit Administration partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to craft a programmatic strategy to protect these bats. Volpe shepherded the strategy from formulation to signing.
The programmatic consultation and conservation strategy for the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat demonstrates how interagency cooperation can facilitate species conservation while reducing the time, cost, and workload associated with Endangered Species Act, Section 7(a) compliance.
Range-Wide Bat Protection
The Indiana bat is a federally listed endangered species whose range covers most of the eastern half of the United States, crossing 22 states. The species primarily hibernates in southern Indiana.
Since 2005, the population of roughly 457,000 Indiana bats has declined by nearly half. Scientists attribute this decline in large part to human disturbance, including cave commercialization and improper gating—where caves are fitted with gates to keep people out, but those gates also impede the bats’ movement or change the airflow, temperature, or humidity of the cave.
The range of the northern long-eared bat is even greater, covering 37 states.
The programmatic consultation and conservation strategy is one of the largest programmatic approaches of its kind, spanning 5 regions and 38 states: the entire ranges of the Indiana and northern long-eared bats. It standardizes interagency policies and offers consistency in project design and review, condenses consultation process timeframes, reduces delays, and contributes meaningfully to bat conservation.
Faster Project Delivery
So far, the programmatic consultation has been used for more than 900 road projects across 18 states. The programmatic cuts the timeline for project approval from months, or even years, to 30 days or fewer.
Before the agreement, environmental consultations were often conducted on a project-by-project basis, and some state DOTs had to complete extensive documentation. Under the programmatic, state DOTs only fill out a project submission form, which can take between 20 and 30 minutes to complete, and there is no need for project-level environmental effect analyses and individual consultations with USFWS.
“Transparency is another key outcome,” Schwarzer said. “This kind of proactive planning from FHWA and its federal partners provides a clear roadmap for states to ensure that these important bats remain unharmed by road and other transportation projects.”
Crafting the Strategy
Throughout the process of formulating the agreement, the Volpe team facilitated discussions, determined long- and short-term goals for the project, and kept the parties moving forward toward strategies that state transportation departments and Fish and Wildlife Service field offices are able to use immediately.
The programmatic consultation and conservation strategy was accomplished in support of FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative. Founded in 2009, the EDC program champions innovations that accelerate project delivery.