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Federal efforts to protect and preserve the northern long-eared bat population could hurt jobs in Michigan, according to a group of U.S. House members.

U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, has joined four other Michigan House Republicans among 21 lawmakers in signing a letter that urges more time for public comment before the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decides on placing the bats on the threatened or endangered species list.

Benishek and Republican Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Candice Miller of Harrison Township, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland and Tim Walberg of Tipton are concerned about the collateral effects of such a designation. In Traverse City, an area in Benishek’s district that includes the Upper Peninsula, construction jobs are at risk.

In late January, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported a local bridge project was in jeopardy since it threatened the bats’ habitat.

“I want to ensure that all the impacted stakeholders have time to understand how this proposal could impact jobs in Northern Michigan,” Benishek said in a statement. “In addition, it is my hope that the USFWS will continue to consider the merit of a proposal that requires setting aside large swaths of land, even though this will likely do little to address White Nose Syndrome, which is the root of the bat population decline. We can protect our wildlife in a responsible manner if we utilize sound science and focus on the actual problem.”

For roughly eight years, northern long-eared bats have been under attack from the white-nose syndrome disease. In America’s Northeast region alone, the bat population has plunged 99 percent.

White nose syndrome gets its name from the white fungus that gets into bats’ noses, ears and wings during hibernation. The resulting loss of bats can allow insect populations to grow unchecked.

In the letter, the members of Congress highlight the fact that bats are threatened by a disease, not human actions. Among the letter signers was Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota.

“...We feel that efforts to list the species as endangered or threatened will likely do little to address the root cause of (white nose syndrome),” the letter reads. “While in the past the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) has recognized that human activities and land management have little to no effect on the northern long-eared bat population, we remain concerned that the (designation), as proposed, may place an undue economic burden on regions impacted by white nose syndrome if implemented.”

JLynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034

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