West Virginia northern flying squirrels have been put back on the endangered species list by a federal judge just after they were taken off by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The judge was made aware of the inappropriate delisting due to a lawsuit filed by The Wilderness Society and Friends of Blackwater Canyon. The key aspect of their argument was that it was the Bush Administration who had put on pressure to delist the flying squirrels and in doing so caused the US Fish and Wildlife Service to circumvent Endangered Species Act requirements. They also somehow overlooked population data for the flying rodents.
The judge wrote in his 30-page opinion, “Here, FWS failed to comply with unambiguous provisions of the ESA, and the Court is not inclined to speculate what the consequence of a properly revised recovery plan will be on the status of this species.” (Source: UScourts.gov)
In 1985 only ten of them were captured by biologists in a survey. In the current period up to 1,100 have been captured in biological surveys. However, a proposed logging project in their habitat would extract 20 million board feet of lumber from over 70,000 acres of forested natural lands. Also herbicides would have been used in the huge logging project. So it appears during the Bush Administration there might have been some string pulling to remove flying squirrel legal protection in order to allow the logging project to go forward. The relisting came just as the logging was about to begin.
Jessica Almy, an attorney who worked on behalf of the conservation organizations said, “This ruling is important not only to conservation of the flying squirrel, but for the proper implementation of the Endangered Species Act. The ruling means that scientifically-based recovery criteria for endangered and threatened species, once having been adopted in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s formal recovery plan, cannot be ignored due to political motivation or simple bureaucratic expediency — in the Service’s haste to remove a species from the protections of the Act.” (Source: Saveblackwater.org)
She also implied it wasn’t only the Bush Administration, but also the Obama administration that might not be heeding the most scientific approach to conservation of wild species. In particular, her comment seemed to be a reference to the pro-industry leaning Ken Salazaar.
Who would think a tiny flying squirrel, back from the brink of extinction, would figure so heavily in the interplay of national politics and federal policy? It actually isn’t just flying squirrels in West Virginia that would have been negatively impacted. Also there is the Cheat Mountain Salamander, the northern water shrew, and the rock vole. The flying squirrels were at the focus of the lawsuit and were a figurehead, of sorts, for the wild animals of the West Virginia mountain forests who all need protection from rampant logging.
Image Credit: HoodRiver.org