August 27, 2008

W.Va. Flying Squirrel Going Off Endangered List


The West Virginia northern flying squirrel is gliding off the federal endangered species list after more than two decades of protection.

The squirrels have recovered from the brink of extinction, while conservation efforts have helped their habitat regenerate, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced Monday.

Once known as the Virginia northern flying squirrel, the species lives in the high-elevation hardwood forests of the Allegheny Highlands in West Virginia and Virginia.

The subspecies, as old as the mastodons, was first listed as endangered in 1985. At the time, only 10 squirrels were located in four areas. Threats to their continued existence included loss of habitat, a lethal parasite, human disturbance and competition with the more common southern flying squirrel.

By the end of 2006, biologists had captured more than 1,200 squirrels at 109 sites.

The final rule announcing the delisting will be published today in the Federal Register and take effect in 30 days.

Nocturnal in nature, the West Virginia northern flying squirrel has dense, silky fur that is brown on top and gray underneath.

Though they weigh less than 5 ounces, they're about a foot long, mostly because of their broad, flat tails.

To glide on the air, they stretch all four legs apart, pulling loose folds of skin taut to create a parachute.

Unlike other squirrels, the species remains active in winter.

Kempthorne said the U.S. Forest Service, through its management of the Monongahela and George Washington national forests, played a major role in protecting the habitat.

The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and the Forest Service's Northern Research Station also helped with studies, while the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries helped monitor the squirrels.

The Forest Service will continue to monitor the flying squirrel for 10 years, double the time required under the Endangered Species Act, to ensure its habitat remains available and its populations are sizable.

Since 1973, 20 plant and animal species have recovered sufficiently to be delisted, including the Yellowstone grizzly bear, the bald eagle in the lower 48 states, and the Minnesota and western Great Lakes populations of gray wolves.

(c) 2008 Charleston Daily Mail. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.