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Bats Threatened by White Nose Syndrome

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 19, Issue 1

A fungal disease that has been called “the deadliest disease to hit wildlife in the United States in recorded history” is threatening fifteen species of bats living in North America.(1) The disease is called White Nose Syndrome (WNS), and bats are the only animals that appear to be affected by this pathogen. Six of these 15 affected bat species are now either threatened or endangered with the possibility of becoming extinct altogether.

The actual scientific name for White Nose Syndrome is Pseudogymnoascus destructans, or Pd for short. Pd can infect up to 90% of a bat hibernaculum, which is a place such as a cave, where the bats hibernate over the winter months.  Bats normally hibernate in colonies of hundreds of bats so the infection spreads quickly through a colony and with devastating results. Whole colonies of bats can succumb to the disease in a single winter.  Already, the fungus has killed almost six million bats in North America. 

Pd attacks the bare skin of the bat (primarily the wings and faces) and produces a white fuzz on the surface. Because of this attack to their skin, the bats will periodically and unnaturally awaken while hibernating.  During a normal hibernation period, bats do awaken from time to time and use some small portion of their stored fat. However, the unnatural activity of the disease causes the bat to use much more of the stored fat that is required to survive the hibernating period.  Bats literally die of starvation from the fungus.(1)

The fungus finds its way into the caves of bat hibernacula through many different avenues. Infected bats can leave the fungus behind on the surface of a cave as they travel from cave to cave.  Sometimes cavers, people who study or investigate caves, carry it on their clothing from one bat hibernaculum to the next, and then there are winds and other external sources that may also be factors that introduce the fungus to a cave. Once introduced to a new setting, the fungus attaches itself to the substrate of the cave walls waiting for an unsuspecting bat.

Pd was first discovered in North America in an area near Albany, New York in the year 2006.  No one knows how it reached our continent, but research into the fungus has traced its initial existence to Eurasia many years prior to 2006.  In Eurasia however, the fungus has been around long enough that the bats there have built an immunity to it.  After its initial discovery in our country in 2006, the pathogen has spread across the US into the Midwest and into some portions of Canada.

There is ongoing research into a “cure” for WNS.  Research into the genome of the fungus and others like it, has shown that Pd is missing an enzyme that turns off reparation of DNA after exposure to UV light. This is one avenue that is being pursued by researchers to help eradicate the fungus from hibernacula before the bats have a chance to settle into their cave for the winter months.

Researchers are also studying the habits of some of the hibernating bats that survive WNS.  They have found that Big Brown Bats have developed a strategy of a unified awakening of the whole colony on a nightly basis in response to the WNS and researchers hypothesize that the heat from surrounding bats helps store energy and hence, fat, making survival of the season an option.(1)

The latest research shows that there are bats that have been infected, survived, and then become pregnant. Their immunity will be passed on to their offspring and there will be more and more immunity as these bats survive into the next generation. Natural selection is working for this species of bats, but what about the others? The disease is still new and spreading in North America. It may take many more years before either the fungal pathogen is eradicated or controlled, or multiple native bat species are able to combat the disease through immunity.  Let’s hope that the bats can hold out until this pathogen is no longer a problem.

1. ”White Nose Syndrome. The mystery fungus killing our bats.” Wild Things nd. <–white-nose-syndtomr.html>

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New EPA Policy on Jurisdictional Waters

The Swamp Stomp

Volume 18, Issue 51

Last week, the US Environmental Protection Agency released a draft version of its new Waters of the US definition. During the signing ceremony there were a few statements which spoke to the spirit of the regulation, specifically, the wisdom of the farmers,developers, and the manufacturing industry to know what is best for the land. I am afraid history is against them on that point. Several of the presenters also made mention that a Waters of the US assessment is something that any landowner should be able to perform as a Do It Yourself (DIY) project, much like building a deck or installing a screen door. This would eliminate the need for environmental consultants, civil engineers, planners, surveyors, attorneys, and many civil service positions. Oh, and yes, wetland training companies like us.

This is obviously a concern as the Clean Water Act has spurred on thousands of jobs in the past 40 years centered around environmental protection and compliance. None of this was disclosed in the associated economic impact analysis other than what was done for this proposed regulation.

Before you fire up your resume and consider a career change there is a bit of good news. Wetlands are still regulated and the fact that they require the presence of wetland soils,vegetation and hydrology is just complicated enough to keep most DIYers out of the swamp. Plus, the new regulation is 253 pages long. A DIY screen door is usually 2 pages with lots of pictures.

There is a significant legal question that I plan on asking in the public comment process. It is a bit complicated, but it may prove to be a major flaw in the regulation. It has to do with the state assumption of the Waters of the US.

Under section 404(g), states can elect to assume the federal 404 program. Thus far, only New Jersey and Michigan have done so. I have had the benefit of living through New Jersey’s assumption process so I have a unique perspective and experience on how the assumption process works.

When the Clean Water Act was passed in1972, it was the intention of the writers that all wetlands and waterways would be jurisdictional. This was underscored in the writing of the 2015 Clean Water Rule. What was not mentioned in the 2015 Clean Water Rule was the fact that initially the US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) had granted an exemption in the form of a general permit (#26) to allow the filling of up to 10 acres of head-water wetlands. These wetlands may or may not have a physical connection to a traditional navigable water way. The was to reduce the regulatory burden on both the Corps and the public. This was an extremely unpopular nationwide permit and it was later reduced to one acre of fill and then ultimately it was eliminated entirely. However, the point being is that these wetlands and waterways were regulated from the onset of the Clean Water Act.

The US Supreme Court chimed in through a series of cases that confirmed that adjacent wetlands are federally jurisdictional and that isolated wetlands are not. Then came the Rapanos case.The nine Justices could not come to a consensus on that case and the lower courts’ decisions were upheld. What is unfortunate is that the current regulations and the proposed regulations are both based upon individual Justices’ opinions. What is before us today represents two opposing sides. The Rapanos case was vacated, so why are using it to make decisions today? I guess it’s just pick your favorite Justice and go with what suits you. This is aside from my point but also an important issue.

The issue is that under this new regulation, the federal government will not regulate wetlands that do not pass the Scalia physical connection test. How then can the states assume these waters under section 404(g)? If they are not regulated by the federal government, there is nothing for the state to assume. The spirit of the EPA proposal is to pass these contentious wetland decisions over to the states. However, if they are non-jurisdictional then the federal government does not have the right to pass them to anyone. It’s not their land! This then becomes a taking issue and the state would only be able to regulate these wetland systems though a state-passed imminent domain process. That will be fun – not.

This is not what New Jersey and Michigan did. They assumed the wetlands (all of them) that were regulated by the federal government. There was a lot of talk about grandfathering when the state laws were passed and there were grandfather provisions due to the more restrictive state versus federal implementation of section 404. However, it was never an issue that the state had the right to regulate the wetlands that were formally regulated by the federal government. At the time, all wetlands were Waters of the US, so the state could assume all of the waters of the state in their entirety.

This new regulation eliminates many of the head-water wetlands that were considered federally jurisdictional. Since some of them only had a biological or chemical significant nexus to a Traditional Navigable Waterway and not a physical connection, they would no longer be considered federally jurisdictional. The idea put forward by the EPA that we should not worry, because the state will regulate these waters if they are important, is disingenuous. If the federal government cannot regulate them, the state would need to create some sort of nexus that would bring these under their control. Forty-eight states, the US Territories, and the Tribes do not have this legislation in place.

I need to make one last point that regards farming. When the Clean Water Act was passed there were farmland exemptions to the Act. This was meant to specify what could and could not be done to a wetland on a farm. This was generally a more relaxed standard than other non-farm activities. However, the wetlands were still regulated. This underscores the intent of the writers of the Clean Water Act to regulate all wetlands and waterways in the US.

The ultimate solution to this issue was described by Justice Alito in the Sacket case of 2012. “Real relief requires Congress to do what it should have done in the first place: provide a reasonably clear rule regarding the reach of the Clean Water Act.” Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency (3/21/2012)

Remember, regulations are an agencies interpretation of a law. If they get it wrong, it is up to us to comment and correct them. You will have that opportunity as soon as the regulation is published in the Federal Register in the next few weeks. Your job may very much depend up where this ends up. Please read it and comment.

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Part-Time Flexible Houston Area Wetland Delineator

1099 Contract work, must be able to get to the office or jobsites in the area. Must have own PC with ArcGIS pro.

Must have experience in field evaluations, plant identification &classifications / soil sampling / completing USACE data forms, experience with GPS survey of site efforts, and simple GIS overlays for report graphics. Must have completed delineation course and performed a sufficient number of Houston area evaluations to competently complete delineations of a site.

Most all field work and office work can be scheduled around other life activities is flexible.

Work is between 0 and about 15 hours a week. About 1/2 field and 1/2 office.

Pay would be $50 per hour of site and office work, then 1/2 rate for travel.

Good position for a student or stay at home parent that isn’t looking for a full-time position, but wants to make some good money and keep field/office skills sharpened.

Steve McElyea, MS PE 
SMC Consulting, Inc. 
3418 Pickering Lane 
Pearland, Texas 77584

281-997-7911 office 
832-725-7085 cell