And daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I’m sorry my son, but you’re too late in asking
Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away
HARRISBURG, Ill. – January 30 – Conservation groups submitted comments today opposing a proposal by the Forest Service to trade away a parcel of the Shawnee National Forest that is home to two kinds of endangered bats to a subsidiary of Peabody Energy Company. The company intends to strip-mine the parcel for coal. The Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club oppose the land swap, which would put nearly 400 acres of wooded river bottom and upland forest along southern Illinois’ Saline River into the ownership of American Land Holdings, in trade for three other privately owned tracts within the national forest boundary.
The groups also filed a formal notice of intent to sue the Forest Service today for failing to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that the land exchange and other actions affected by the Shawnee Forest Plan do not illegally hurt endangered species.
“Swapping away the homes of endangered bats so that a coal company can strip mine them is unconscionable,” said Mollie Matteson, a bat specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Just two weeks ago, the federal government issued the staggering news that nearly 7 million bats have died over just the past few years from white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that has been spreading across the country like wildfire, wiping out bats from Nova Scotia to Tennessee. Now the Forest Service proposes to intentionally put bats in harm’s way?”
Last summer biologists documented an active colony of endangered Indiana bats roosting in a tree on the national forest property. The biologists also found endangered gray bats foraging for insects. Despite the presence of these two species of endangered bats, the Forest Service wants to give away these public lands to be strip-mined for coal.
The Indiana bat has been devastated by white-nose syndrome in the northeastern United States, declining by more than 70 percent in that region since 2006. The disease was discovered for the first time in Indiana and Kentucky last winter, and scientists believe it will soon be documented in Illinois as well. The core range of the Indiana bat lies within Indiana and neighboring states; the disease could prove catastrophic for the species. White-nose has not yet infected gray bats, which live primarily in the Midwest and South, but biologists believe they may be susceptible to the malady too.
Said Jim Bensman, chair of the Sierra Club’s Shawnee National Forest Committee: “The Forest Service has a legal obligation to make protection of endangered species a top priority. When the agency found out last summer there were Indiana bats and gray bats on the land, its first move should have been to safeguard that habitat, not move forward with a plan with Peabody to have it strip-mined.”
White-nose syndrome has been called the worst wildlife disease crisis in our country’s history. It first appeared in a bat cave near Albany, N.Y., in 2006, and has since spread to 16 states and four Canadian provinces. The fungus that causes the disease has been found on asymptomatic bats in another three states, including Missouri and Oklahoma. The disease kills bats in the winter, when they hibernate in caves and mines.
Six bat species, thus far, have been affected by the illness, and biologists fear it may spread from coast to coast, potentially causing multiple extinctions. Bats play an important role in controlling insect populations, and last year a paper in the journal Science reported that the economic value of bats to American agriculture is somewhere between $3.7 billion and $53 billion per year, because bats eat bugs that attack crops, such as cotton, corn and numerous vegetables and fruits.