Towercos Must Take These Steps to Protect Threatened Bats

The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau updated its guidance for proposed tower construction in the Midwest, where the northern long-eared bat lives. The new instructions update the previous 2016 guidance. They direct towerco construction applicants to the electronic resources of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and require electronic documentation submission to the Commission in certain circumstances, similar to bureau guidance for other threatened species.

The Northern Long Eared Bat was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2015 because of the continued spread of white-nose syndrome, a fungus that kills bats. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2016, released required protective measures for the bats. It also released an optional streamlined framework for proposed tower construction. The FCC said if this were used, the tower owner was not required to submit additional information to the Commission. 

Now, the bureau directs applicants using the streamlined framework to complete an automated computer “determination key” for the bats through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Information for Planning and Consultation system. The key asks a series of questions related to the project to help applicants determine the probable impact the deployment will have on the bats. It recommends steps to minimize the project’s impact, and determines whether the project will harm the bats.

After completing the key, an applicant will receive a letter from the Service. It will either be a “consistency” letter informing the tower owner it’s satisfied and concluded its responsibilities under Endangered Species Act section 7(a)(2) and that any activities resulting in harm to the bats are excepted, or a “formal consultation” letter informing the applicant that project-specific Endangered Species Act section 7 formal consultation is necessary.

If a towerco receives a consistency letter and is submitting a related Antenna Structure Registration or Universal Licensing System application, the towerco must attach the letter to its Commission application. Otherwise, towercos must retain a copy of the letter and be prepared to share it with the FCC.

If the tower owner receives a formal consultation letter, it must notify the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and submit a biological assessment completed by a qualified biologist here. The bureau will share that with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief

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