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Bat Species Now Considered Threatened, Impacting Permit Reviews

On April 2, 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) published notice in the Federal Register of its decision to protect the Northern Long-eared Bat (Myotis septentrionalis) as a threatened species with an interim 4(d) rule under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), primarily due to the threat posed by white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has devastated many bat populations.

Populations of the bat have declined dramatically in the eastern part of the bat's range in the United States and Canada. Impact of the disease is among the factors analyzed by the USFWS under the ESA when a species is considered for listing. The threatened status for the bat went into effect on May 4. This listing impacts permit reviews across the state.

The following guidance is intended to be used to describe how DEP will move forward with implementing this change.

  • What is the link between the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) Environmental Review Tool and permit applications?
    DEP ensures that permit applicants utilize the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program's (PNHP) Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory Environmental Review Tool ("PNDI Tool") to protect threatened and endangered species, and special concern species where applicable, during the administration of permit programs. PNDI is the primary source of information utilized by DEP during the permit process for the protection of threatened and endangered species, and special concern species where applicable. The PNDI coordination effort facilitates the avoidance and minimization of impacts to threatened and endangered species, and special concern species where applicable.

    The PNDI Tool generates a search "receipt" entitled PNDI Project Environmental Review Receipt ("PNDI Receipt"). The PNDI Receipt contains important information regarding any threatened and endangered species for each PNDI screening. For applicable DEP permits and authorizations, applicants must submit a copy of a PNDI Receipt with their application and coordinate with appropriate jurisdictional agencies.

    For more information about PNDI and DEP's permitting process, please see "Policy for Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI) Coordination During Permit Review and Evaluation", Document No. 021-0200-011.

    With the addition of the Northern Long-eared Bat to the list of federally threatened species, the PNDI Tool has been updated. Any PNDI Receipts obtained prior to May 4, 2015 do not encompass the Northern Long-eared Bat. For that reason, DEP may not issue a permit until the application contains a PNDI Receipt obtained after May 4, 2015.

    The online PNDI Tool can be accessed at www.naturalheritage.state.pa.us. For information on how to use the PNDI Tool, click the link directly below the tool titled "How to use the ER Tool."
    Note: Due to the recent high volume of project screenings, the PNDI Tool may be performing slower than normal, providing error messages, or not generating receipts. If you are unsuccessful accessing the PNDI Tool, please attempt your screening at another time or perform your project screenings during the early morning or evening.
  • What does this mean for applications under review?
    For applications that are currently under review by DEP, DEP will conduct the PNDI screening and obtain an updated PNDI Receipt unless the applicant confirms with the lead reviewer that it will submit an updated PNDI receipt to the DEP as part of its application.

    If the new PNDI receipt states Further Review Required with USFWS at the site, the applicant will be made aware of the concern. The applicant will then need to follow the instructions provided on the new PNDI Receipt to obtain appropriate clearances from USFWS.
  • What does this mean for new applications?
    Applications with a PNDI Receipt dated prior to May 4, 2015 will be returned or the applicant will be notified per the Standard Operating Procedure outlined for that type of permit. Following the SOP, DEP will inform the applicant in writing of the need to conduct a new PNDI screening and to submit an updated PNDI Receipt before DEP's review of the application can continue. The applicant will need to perform a new PNDI screening and obtain a new PNDI Receipt and submit the new PNDI receipt to DEP with any other appropriate documentation.
  • If I conducted a PNDI screening prior to May 4, 2015, my PNDI receipt is less than 2 years old and I coordinated with the appropriate resource agencies, do I need to repeat that process before submitting an application?
    If an applicant conducted a PNDI screening within the last 2 years and obtained a PNDI Receipt prior to May 4, 2015, and coordinated with the appropriate resource agencies, the applicant should submit the original PNDI Receipt and any documentation from the resource agency related to any potential impacts, along with a new updated PNDI Receipt obtained after May 4, 2015.
    • If the new PNDI Receipt states No Further Review Required with the USFWS, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) and Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), no further coordination is necessary.
    • If the new PNDI Receipt states Further Review Required with USFWS, DCNR, PFBC and/or PGC, compare the old PNDI Receipt against the new PNDI Receipt. If the same species are listed, then no further coordination is necessary.
    • If it is unclear whether the same species are listed on the PNDI Receipt, the applicant should contact the resource agency listed for verification and review of the species.
    • If the new PNDI Receipt states Further Review Required with USFWS, the applicant will need to coordinate with the USFWS.
  • Will applications be considered incomplete if a PNDI Receipt dated prior to May 4, 2015 is provided with a new application without an updated PNDI Receipt?
    Yes. The need to provide an updated PNDI Receipt will be one of the items requested of the applicant either as a phone call or technical deficiency notice as per the SOP for the particular permit.
  • What does this listing mean for projects that have already received permits?
    Any permittee who was required to complete a PNDI search to obtain a DEP permit and has not completed the work authorized by the permit is still responsible for complying with the new listing of the Northern Long-eared Bat as a threatened species under ESA. To ensure compliance, these permittees should complete a new PNDI search using the PNDI tool, and conduct any and all avoidance measures listed on the PNDI receipt, or required in a clearance letter from USFWS.
  • For pending applications, if the PNDI search was conducted as a large project, how should the new search be conducted?
    DEP (or delegated County Conservation Districts (CCDs)) should be able to conduct a PNDI screening for large projects just as any other applicant as long as the PNDI Tool can be utilized by DEP/CCD staff to capture the entire size/area of the project. Currently the PNDI Tool will accommodate linear projects up to 10 miles in length and area projects up to 5,165 acres.

    Projects too large to be screened through the PNDI Tool are considered large projects that will need to be resubmitted to USFWS only for review for the Northern Long-eared Bat. Projects already reviewed from DCNR, PFBC and PGC remain valid for 2 years from the date on the agency's letter.
  • If this listing is a federal listing, why does it matter to state permits and state permit decisions?
    This listing does not just apply to federal permits but to all permits and any permitted activity that has the potential to violate the ESA. The federal listing of the Northern Long-eared Bat may not affect planning activities under Act 537 if a subsequent PNDI search will be required to obtain permits related to the proposed project.
  • Is it necessary to conduct an updated PNDI screening and obtain a new PNDI Receipt if the project does not involve the cutting of trees?
    Yes, for applicable permits and authorizations that require a PNDI Receipt, the requirement is not limited to those projects that propose tree cutting.
  • If I am conducting a small timber harvesting project, do I need to conduct a PNDI screening for NLEB habitat?
    If Chapter 105 permit coverage is necessary, then the PNDI screening is required.