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Wildlife services work to protect native bat species from extinction in Florida

The Florida bonneted bat, found only in the Sunshine State, is on the verge of extinction. It’s the state’s largest bat species. And, without our help, the mosquito-eating flyer will die off. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to designate the bat’s home in Charlotte and Collier counties as critical habitat.

We looked at the plan Tuesday to save the Florida bonneted bat from extinction in Southwest Florida.

“They have very limited offspring, and also their habitat is very specific,” said David Outerbridge, with the UF/IFAS Extension in Lee County.

The state’s largest bat can reach a length of 6.5 inches (16.5 centimeters) with a wingspan of 20 inches (51 centimeters).

These bats live primarily Central and South Florida. And experts say parts of Southwest Florida are home to the densest population.

“In Charlotte County, in the Babcock area, it is the greatest concentration of these bats that we have, that we know that we have in Florida,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Florida director for Center for Biological Diversity.

The center filed a lawsuit with two other agencies in 2018 for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to better protect the endangered species, once believed to be extinct.

Now, a wildlife service proposal would designate 1.5 million acres of land — mainly in Charlotte and Collier counties as its critical habitat.

“It’s really important that we protect the habitat” Lopez said. “It’s like protecting our homes.”

That means federal agencies would have to get approval from the wildlife service to make sure their project won’t hurt the bat’s habitat.

“The hope is that it improves the project so you can allow most of the habitat to remain intact,” Lopez said.

“You don’t know what will happen to the ecosystem if we lose these bats,” Outerbridge said.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is looking for feedback on the proposal through August. The agency will use that information to pick the most critical locations.

“If we can protect our environment for ourselves, we can protect it for the bonneted bat,” Lopez said.

MORE: Endangered and Threatened Species: Designation of Critical Habitat for Florida Bonneted Bat

Reporter:Erika Jackson
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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