This article originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

June 5, 2006

Feds to take flying squirrel off endangered species list

By Paul J. Nyden
Staff writer

The West Virginia northern flying squirrel is “ready to fly solo” and needs no further government protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday.

But some West Virginia outdoorsmen and environmental groups believe the tiny creature may well plunge toward extinction if it confronts bulldozers, trucks and bare hillsides on timbering and strip-mining sites.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has not done adequate research or put the requisite measures in place to keep the squirrel from going extinct,” says Judy Rodd, director of the environmental group Friends of Blackwater.

The flying squirrel will face new threats if it is removed from the national List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, said Rodd, whose group is fighting for protections for the Blackwater Canyon as well as the northern flying squirrel.

The decision to remove the squirrel from the federal list came from the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Northeast Region.

“The cooperative conservation efforts led largely by the Monongahela National Forest and natural regeneration of the spruce forest ecosystem were essential ingredients in the squirrel’s resurgence,” said Shane Jones, a biologist in Fish and Wildlife’s Elkins field office.

Rodd charges that the northern flying squirrel is being delisted and other regional endangered species — including the Cheat snail and two river mussels — are being considered for delisting as a political favor to the coal and timber industries.

“Is good science being shunted aside to please the coal and timber industries?” Rodd said.

The Petersburg-based timber company Allegheny Wood Products “stands to gain plenty if protections are removed from the northern flying squirrel,” Rodd said. “Logging and timber-cutting in the Blackwater Canyon could begin soon.”

Federal Election Commission records reveal that Allegheny owner John Crites, his wife, Patricia, and other company executives have given $43,250 to the Republican Party and its candidates since 2000.

Those donations included $17,850 to Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., $14,500 to President Bush, $10,000 to the National Republican Committee and $900 to the West Virginia Republican State Committee.

Crites also gave $2,000 to Sen. Jay Rockefeller and $1,000 to Alan Mollohan, both D-W.Va., according to FEC records.

In its Friday press release, the Fish and Wildlife Service said that the Endangered Species Act requires “periodic assessment” of all protected species to make sure there’s a need to continue the protections.

In 1985, when flying squirrel protections were first enacted, biologists could find only 10 squirrels in four separate areas, the release said.

“Since then, the threats have largely decreased, the 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.”

To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.

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