Small bat delays big highway project

Endangered species should be accommodated in final plans

Blog Entry March 11, 2013
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The discovery of an endangered bat is delaying design work on a proposed interchange on I-80 near West Des Moines, Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register. The lone female Indiana bat was found near the site of the proposed interchange. The Indiana bat is on both the federal and the Iowa endangered species lists.


Federal officials have asked for a study, estimated to cost $30,000, to determine if construction of the interstate will harm the bat population. The number of Indiana bats in the U.S. has dropped to half of what it was in 1967, when the species was put on the endangered species list, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


City officials were set to begin work on the final design of the interchange and are now frustrated with the delay.


"It's coming up at the last hour where this bat was found five-eighths of a mile from the site, and now all of the sudden they want to bring this site into the analysis," West Des Moines Mayor Steve Gaer told the Des Moines Register. "It seems to me that it's so far away, why bring this site into it, but they've got the ability to request that we do that."


The study could delay plans for the project by three to five months but will not derail it. The study will probably involved capturing and tagging bats during May, when they return to their roosting spots after the winter hibernation. The researchers will then be able to see where the bats roost, and the interchange project will be able to work out a plan that will accommodate the bats without destroying the trees where they roost.


In the March 2013 issue of the Federal Highway Administration’s Successes in Stewardship, FHWA wrote, “For many years, FHWA has recognized transportation and transportation-related projects that encourage better environmental outcomes for natural habitats and human activities.”


If the FHWA is sincere about seeking better environmental outcomes for natural habitats and the creatures that live in them, then accommodations must be made to construction plans, even when it is inconvenient, even when endangered species are found late in the process. The presence of endangered species is not always known before human planners’ artificial deadlines for things like final design or start of construction.

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