TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - An important pollinator for Arizona's iconic saguaro and Mexico's agave farms, the Lesser Long-nosed bat has been removed from the endangered species list.
Thanks to service-led partnerships with local communities, conservation groups, agencies and Mexico the bat has come back from the brink of extinction, according to a news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"The science clearly shows threats to the bat have been eliminated or reduced to the point that the bat has recovered," said Service Southwest Regional Director Amy Lueders, in the news release. "The Service is proud of our strong, decades-long partnerships with very diverse stakeholders on behalf of the lesser long-nosed bat. Without partnerships and collaborations such as these, successful recovery would not be possible."
It took nearly 30 years, but the lesser long-nosed bat is the first bat to ever be removed from the Endangered Species Act protections, due to its recovery. According to FWS, in 1988 when the bat was initially protected under the ESA there were only 1,000 of the bats at 14 known roosts, range wide. In 2018 that number has grown to an estimated 200,000 bats at 75 roosts in the southwestern U.S. and Mexico.
"The story of the lesser long-nosed bat shows that conservation and science can work together to provide species the chance to recover and persist," said Chief Scientist at Bat Conservation International, Dr. Winifred Frick, in the same release. "Scientists and conservation groups in both Mexico and the U.S. have worked together over the years toward recovering these bats, it's an exciting success story for collaborative conservation efforts and the Endangered Species Act."
"Any time we can properly recover a species so that it can be removed from the Threatened and Endangered Species List is a great day for wildlife conservation," said Jim deVos, Assistant Director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. "Through the dedicated boots-on-the-ground work of multiple partners, the overall population trend for lesser long-nosed bats appears to be increasing and conservation actions are in place to ensure that remaining threats are minimized. We support the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's action to remove the species from the list of threatened and endangered species."
It was an international team effort, consisting of biologists and researchers in both the U.S. and Mexico, along with state, federal and Tribal groups, non-governmental organizations, and citizen scientists in Pima County and tequila producers in Mexico.
Not only is the lesser long-nosed bat a pollinator for saguaros and agaves, it also helps contribute to healthy soils and habitats and provides a 'sustainable economic benefit' for communities in both nations.
Southern Arizona residents have been monitoring the night-time use of hummingbird feeders for the last 10 years. It was this data that provided biologists with a clearer understanding of the bat's migration timing. These citizen scientists also supported biologists in capturing bats and affixing radio transmitters to them that aid in finding roost sites.
Federal agencies in the U.S. like the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and even groups on board Fort Huachuca help manage bat roosts and forage areas. All have integrated the management of lesser long-nosed bat forage plants – agaves, and saguaro and organ pipe cacti – into their land use and resource management plans.
These same agencies also helped deter human disturbance of roost site caves and abandoned mines. With the assistance of state agencies and Bat Conservation International, stakeholders designed and installed bat gates that allow bat access to roost sites and eliminate human access.
While this was going on in the U.S., tequila producers to the south in Mexico integrated harvest and cultivation practices, to recognize that the bats were an important part of the pollination process, even going as far as to market "bat friendly tequila".
According to the FWS release the control of vampire bats for rabies control and to reduce the impacts to the livestock industry also destroyed roost sites of non-target bats, like the lesser long-nosed bat. An active education campaign is helping change attitudes regarding the conservation of bats and improve bat identification and appreciation. As a result of reduced threats and improved population numbers, the bat was removed from Mexico's endangered species list in 2015.
To ensure the lesser long-nosed bat continues to thrive following its delisting, the Service will soon release a draft Post-Delisting Monitoring Plan. Together with conservation partners, the Service is committed to monitoring the lesser long-nosed bats' continued roost occupancy, as well as monitoring and assessing the bats' forage availability.
Lesser long-nosed bats range from southern Mexico to southern Arizona and New Mexico. Some Mexican populations are year-round residents. The migratory ones leave southern Mexico only to find maternity roosts in northern Mexico and Southwestern U.S. ., where arriving pregnant females have access to forage for birthing and nursing their pups. The bats' migrations and maternity roosting are reliant on timing and location of the "nectar trail" – the blooming and fruiting season of agaves, saguaros and organ pipe cacti, among other flowering plants that provide their nutrient-rich nectar diet. Bat colonies seek out roost sites in caves, abandoned mines and large crevices and will travel up to 40 miles each night to reach their nocturnal foraging areas.
The delisting determination draws upon a scientific species status assessment – an evaluation of threats and an assessment of the bat's long-term viability. The species status assessment also considered the potential effects that a changing climate may have on the nectar trail and the bats' foraging, migration and roosting cycles.
The lesser long-nosed bat has shown the ability to adapt to adverse forage conditions, and biologists found that its flexible and adaptive behaviors will allow it to remain viable under changing climatic conditions.