February 22nd, 2007 02:52 EST
proposal to remove flying squirrel from endangered species protection
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is extending the public comment period on a proposal to remove the West Virginia northern flying squirrel from Endangered Species Act protection, according to Martin Miller, chief of endangered species for the Service's Northeast Region. Cooperative conservation and natural regeneration of the endangered flying squirrel's spruce forest habitat have secured the population, he said.
The announcement of the extended comment period on the proposed action is in today's "Federal Register:"
Comments must be received by April 23, 2007. They can be mailed or faxed to:
Assistant Chief, Endangered Species
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
300 Westgate Center Drive
Hadley, MA 01035-9589
After Service biologists evaluate the comments received, Miller said they will make a final decision on whether the flying squirrel will be removed from federal protection. If the Service decides to proceed with the action, it will publish a final rule in the "Federal Register," and the action will be effective immediately.
If the Service removes the West Virginia northern flying squirrel, formerly known as the Virginia northern flying squirrel, from Endangered Species Act protection, it will continue monitoring the status of the flying squirrel for at least five years, as required by the Act, with assistance from the state of West Virginia, the Monongahela National Forest and other conservation agencies.
The small, nocturnal flying squirrel depends upon the red spruce ecosystem in the Allegheny highlands of West Virginia and Virginia. In 1985 when the Act first protected it, biologists were able to find only 10 squirrels in four separate areas. Since then, the threats have either been eliminated or largely decreased, the known population has grown, and by the end of 2005 biologists had found more than 1,100 squirrels at 107 sites throughout much of its historic range.
In June, the Service announced after a review of the flying squirrel's status that the species no longer faces the threat of extinction. The flying squirrel review document is on the Internet at http://www.fws.gov/northeast/pdf/flysqrev.pdf Hard copies are available upon request from the Service?s West Virginia Field Office, phone 304-636-6586. In December, the Service formally proposed removing federal protection for the flying squirrel.
For additional information about the 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.
Laura Hill 304-636-6586 x18; Diane Lynch 413-253-8628; Diana Weaver 413-253-8329