Forestry Habitat Conservation Plan for Bats on Pennsylvania State Game Lands, State Forests, and State Parks
Frequently Asked Questions
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Pennsylvania Game Commission manage a combined 3.8 million acres of state forests, state parks, and state game lands for many uses and values, including wildlife habitat.
Forest management strategies and uses for these lands include removing timber and prescribed burns, both of which have the potential to impact the foraging, roosting, maternity colony, spring staging, fall swarming and migratory habitat for bat species that occur in Pennsylvania, including the federally endangered Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) and federally threatened northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis). However, forest management (which includes timber removal) and prescribed burns also help to create foraging habitat which is beneficial to bats.
To avoid impacts to the greatest extent possible and mitigate them where they might occur, the DCNR and Game Commission are working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in developing a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat. One of the benefits of this plan is that it allows the agencies to limit and address impacts across the entire 3.8 million acres during a 30-year period, rather than on a project-by-project basis. This enables the DCNR and Game Commission to be more proactive in planning for the conservation of Indiana bats and northern long-eared bats across the state lands system. Initiatives such as seasonal restrictions, canopy retention, and hibernation protection will be incorporated into the plan to aid in the conservation of both bats.
Please see the frequently asked questions below for more information about the HCP and its development and public comment process:
What is the goal of the habitat conservation plan (HCP)?
The overall goal of this HCP is to develop and implement a conservation plan that will accomplish the following objectives:
- Avoid and minimize incidental take of Indiana bats and northern long-eared bats resulting from forest management and other related activities to the maximum extent practicable on State Lands;
- Accommodate current and future forest management activities on State Lands;
- Support state conservation goals such as those described in the Game and Wildlife Code, the Conservation and Natural Resources Act (Act 18), the Wild Resource Conservation Act, the Cave Protection Act, and other applicable state laws and regulations;
- Identify targeted conservation efforts that can improve the value of State Lands for Indiana bats and northern long-eared bats and thus help stabilize and aid in the recovery of the species; and
- Ultimately obtain an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) from the USFWS based on the measures outlined in the HCP.
What is the process of obtaining an Incidental Take Permit?
To obtain an Incidental Take Permit, applicants develop a HCP and apply for the permit. To submit a permit application, the following are necessary: application form, HCP document, Implementation Agreement (as applicable), application fee, and a draft National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis. While processing the permit application, the USFWS prepares the ITP and a biological opinion under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and finalizes the NEPA analysis. This process is displayed in detail below (Figure 1)
What are the covered forest management practices within the HCP?
This HCP addresses the forest management activities that are critical to managing a diverse and sustainable habitat on State Lands, but have the potential to incidentally take covered bats. Activities occurring on State Lands that are not listed below are subject to their own permitting requirements. All of the HCP covered activities would be conducted by DCNR or Game Commission staff or contractors when necessary. The HCP covered activities are as follows:
- Forest Regeneration and Operations: timber harvests, timber salvage, fencing and firewood collection
- Roads and Trails: roads associated with timber harvests, trails, and maintenance/use associated with roads and trails
- Prescribed Fire: burning and fire breaks
- Activities associated with HCP implementation: habitat restoration and HCP monitoring efforts
Why are energy exploration and development on State Lands not covered under the HCP?
Natural gas and coal deposits are found beneath most State Lands, and the extraction of these resources has the potential to impact Indiana bats and northern long-eared bats. However, all such energy extraction efforts are subject to their own compliance processes and are excluded from coverage by this HCP, which focuses solely on forestry and the forestry-related activities described above.
Who is part of the HCP Stakeholder Group and how were they selected?
The HCP Stakeholder Group is comprised of experts and professionals in the timber, prescribed fire, and wildlife fields. The participants represent conservation organizations, academic institutions, and business and development interests related specifically to forest management activities and/or bat biology and were selected to provide input on timber, prescribed fire and wildlife management on State Lands. The following participants are included in the HCP Stakeholder Group:
Forest Investment Associates
Allegheny National Forest – U.S. Forest Service
Pennsylvania Forest Products Association
US Forest Service - Northern Research Station
Pennsylvania State University
Prescribed fire professionals
Fort Indiantown Gap National Guard Training Center
Natural Lands Trust
PA Chapter of the Wildlife Society
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy
PA Biological Survey - Mammal Technical Committee
National Park Service
Bat Conservation International
Why wasn’t my organization invited to participate as a stakeholder in the development of the HCP?
In order to limit the Stakeholder Group to a manageable number of participants, the groups invited to participate were those who could provide direct input on the covered activities in the HCP (e.g., land resource management agencies, wildlife professionals, timber professionals, and fire professionals). However, the public will be afforded an opportunity to fully participate and comment on the HCP through the federal NEPA process.
What steps are required for the Game Commission and DCNR to complete the HCP process and what is the process for the agencies to receive the ITP?
In order for the Game Commission and DCNR to obtain an ITP, an HCP will need to be completed and subsequently approved by the USFWS. As issuance of the ITP by the USFWS is considered a major federal action, it requires compliance with NEPA. The objectives of NEPA include disclosing environmental information, fostering intergovernmental coordination and cooperation, and enhancing public participation in government planning and decision making. As part of the NEPA process, the USFWS will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) which will assess and analyze the potential effects of issuance of the ITP on the human and natural environment, including biological resources and socioeconomics. These effects will be disclosed to the public through the NEPA process, and the public will be afforded the opportunity to participate and comment on the issuance of the ITP.
How can my organization participate in the process?
Upon completion of the Draft EIS, the Draft EIS and Public Draft HCP will be published in the Federal Register, and the public will have a 90-day period to submit comments on both the EIS and HCP. During this 90-day comment period, a public meeting and webinars will be held to present an overview of the documents as well as to answer any questions. Prior to approval of the Final EIS, the public will have a 30-day period to submit comments on the Final EIS. Please see the HCP process flowchart below for additional information on the HCP and NEPA processes.
Where is the State Lands HCP in the Incidental Take Permit process?
As of April 2016, the following has occurred:
- The HCP was originally developed with feedback from the Stakeholder Group to include Indiana bats only.
- Substantial delays to the HCP development process by the Game Commission and DCNR occurred due to the USFWS determination in October 2013 that northern long-eared bats warranted listing under the ESA. A final determination regarding the species listing was to occur no later than October 2014. At this time, both DCNR and the Game Commission decided that northern long-eared bats should be incorporated into the HCP, and began the process of determining to what extent the new listing would have on forest management activities covered under the State Lands HCP.
- The USFWS began the scoping process under NEPA, which was announced in November 2013 and closed in December 2013. Based on early scoping, the USFWS determined that an EIS would be the appropriate level of NEPA review for the HCP.
- In June 2014, the USFWS announced that the final northern long-eared bat determination would be extended 6-months to be published in April 2015.
- In April 2015, USFWS published their final determination that northern long-eared bats would be a federally threatened species with an interim 4(d) rule; both of which went into effect in May 2015. DCNR and the Game Commission began incorporating northern long-eared bats into the HCP at this time. The decision to incorporate the species into the HCP would result in both agencies having incidental take coverage if and when the species status changes to federally endangered (at which point the 4(d) rule will no longer be applicable).
- The final 4(d) rule was published in the Federal Register by the USFWS in January 2016. Since January 2016, DCNR and the Game Commission have been working to fully incorporate the northern long-eared bat into the draft HCP.
- The preliminary draft HCP will be revised and reviewed by the HCP Stakeholder Group and the USFWS. After any comments have been addressed and incorporated, a Public Draft HCP will be available, which is expected to occur in Fall 2016.
- Likewise, the NEPA process is currently moving forward and a Draft EIS is expected to be completed in Fall 2016.
For other questions, please contact Tracey Librandi Mumma, PA Game Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org or Ellen Shultzabarger, DCNR at email@example.com.
Figure 1. The HCP Process