U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist holding a little brown bat
Two environmental groups are suing Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources for allegedly failing to protect endangered bats from pesticides meant to kill mosquitoes.
The Vermont Natural Resources Council and the Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit Monday in the Environmental Division of Vermont Superior Court.
The groups say the agency should have required a mosquito protection district to get “incidental take” permits under Vermont’s Protection of Endangered Species Act for harming five threatened and endangered bat species.
The state Fish & Wildlife Department opted not require the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen-Pittsford Insect Control District to apply for such permits, arguing there was no evidence its pesticide spraying actually harms the creatures.
“Poorly regulated pesticide spraying is putting the state’s threatened and endangered bats at risk,” Mason Overstreet, staff attorney at Vermont Law School’s Environmental Advocacy Clinic, said in a press release. “ANR’s decision to ignore both the scientific consensus and the plain-preventative language of Vermont’s endangered species law abandons their responsibility to protect vulnerable wildlife.”
The agency’s July 2021 decision was made despite the unanimous recommendation in March by its own Endangered Species Committee that such permits should be required. The committee is a scientific panel that advises the agency.
A 2019 report by Huntington bat expert Jeff Parsons found that five bat species — Indiana bat, northern long-eared bat, eastern small-footed bat, little brown bat, and tri-colored bat — were all likely to suffer “acute toxic impacts” from flying through clouds of the insecticides malathion and permethrin.
In her ruling, Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore noted that the state is "fully committed to protecting" threatened and endangered species if an activity "actually poses a reasonable likelihood of risk of injury" to it. She called the risks to bats "speculative and unquantified."
The committee’s recommendation and the expert report raised sufficient questions about the risk to the bats that the department should have at least required the district to apply for a permit, said Jamey Fidel, Vermont Natural Resources Council's general counsel.
“The threshold is whether there’s a risk to injury of wildlife, whether the injury occurs or not,” Fidel said.
The permit process would have been a forum for experts to discuss whether there are alternatives or ways to lessen the impact of the pesticides, he said.
“There’s no doubt that Vermont’s refusal to follow science and the law will result in these amazing, imperiled animals being harmed by toxic insecticides,” Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a release. “Given that bats actually help to regulate mosquito populations, the state’s reckless decision to allow them to be killed in order to kill mosquitoes is a shortsighted choice that will cause long-term harm. It leaves us no choice but to go to court to protect them.”