December 19th, 2006 12:01 EST
Flying Squirrel Proposed for Removal from Federal Protection
Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced today a proposal to remove the West Virginia northern flying squirrel, formerly known as the Virginia northern flying squirrel, from Endangered Species Act protection. A combination of cooperative conservation efforts and the natural regeneration of the endangered flying squirrel`s spruce forest habitat have secured the population.
"When a species recovers to the point where we can remove it from the List of Threatened and Endangered Species, we have a big success story," Kempthorne said. "In this case, recovery of the squirrel population depended upon the revival of the spruce forest ecosystem spurred by the Monongahela National Forest`s conservation efforts. We also have the state of West Virginia and the U.S. Department of Agriculture`s Northeastern Research Station to thank for conducting studies that provide the scientific foundation for this recommendation."
The latest scientific and commercial information on the status of the squirrel shows that threats to the population have either been eliminated or largely abated. Recovery actions have resulted in new information demonstrating a significant increase in the number of individual squirrels and reproduction over multiple generations. The data show that suitable habitat has vastly improved due to the protective actions of the Forest Service, and there is a lack of threats to the species as a whole.
If the proposed action is finalized, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with assistance from the state of West Virginia, the Monongahela National Forest and other conservation agencies, will continue monitoring the status of the flying squirrel for at least five years, as required by the Act.
The small, nocturnal flying squirrel depends upon the red spruce ecosystem in the Allegheny highlands of West Virginia and Virginia. Like other flying squirrels, it glides rather than flies. In 1985 when the Act first protected it, biologists were able to find only 10 squirrels in four separate areas. They determined that habitat loss, human disturbance and competition with the more common southern flying squirrel threatened the species. Since that time, the threats have either been eliminated or largely decreased, and the known population has grown. By the end of 2005, biologists found more than 1,100 squirrels at 107 sites throughout much of its historic range.
The Service is accepting comments and information on the proposed action published in today`s Federal Register, http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/fr-cont.html. Comments must be received by Feb. 20, 2007. They may be mailed or faxed to:
Assistant Chief, Endangered and Threatened Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
300 Westgate Center Drive
Hadley, MA 01035-9589
Fax: 413-253-8482The flying squirrel status review is available at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/pdf/flysqrev.pdf. Hard copies are available upon request from the Service`s West Virginia Field Office, 304-636-6586.
For additional information about the West Virginia northern flying squirrel, see http://www.fws.gov/northeast/pdf/flyingsq.pdf. Information about the Service?s endangered species program may be found at http://www.fws.gov/endangered.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.
Diana Weaver 413/253-8329
Tom Chapman 304/636-6586 x12
Glenn Smith 413/253-8627