SAVING THE FLORIDA BONNETED BAT

Bats, those unique and magnificent mammals of the air, might be the last creatures you’d associate with the deep, vast ocean. But as that ocean becomes ever deeper and vaster through accelerating sea-level rise — caused by climate change rapidly melting our planet’s ice caps and warming waters — some bats are in imminent danger from seawater creeping over their terrestrial habitat, which is already prime fodder for development and other destructive human activities.

Those bats are Florida bonneted bats.

Florida’s largest bats, these unique creatures get their common name from the broad ears that extend over their foreheads like bonnets. Previously known as Wagner’s or Florida mastiff bats, these bats were reclassified as a separate species unique to Florida — and they’d be lost if their home state became inundated with the encroaching sea. On a regional level, sea-level rise projections for South Florida in the range of the bonneted bat indicate that sea-level rise between 3 and 6 feet is highly likely within this century.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, the Florida bonneted bat must be listed under the Endangered Species Act and be granted federally protected critical habitat. Unfortunately, instead of listing the bat, in 2009 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service merely put it on the candidate list to await protections indefinitely. But under the Center’s 2011 landmark settlement agreement, the Service agreed to move forward on protection decisions for 757 species, including the Florida bonneted bat — and the next year, it was proposed for protection as an endangered species. We filed comments in support of that listing and in 2013, Florida bonneted bats finally received endangered status under the federal Endangered Species Act.