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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 27, 2008
3:52 PM

CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity

Judy Rodd, Friends of Blackwater, (304) 345-7663
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Bush Administration Ignores Science-based Recovery Plan, Removes West Virginia Northern Flying Squirrel From Endangered Species

CAMBRIDGE, Md. - August 27 - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared Tuesday that it has removed the West Virginia northern flying squirrel from protection under the Endangered Species Act - despite the squirrel's small population and the looming threat that climate change poses to its habitat.

The flying squirrel was declared "recovered" even though the species has been unable to meet goals in a recovery plan developed by the world's leading experts on the squirrel's biology and status. The Fish and Wildlife Service's action ignores the alarm bells that scientists have been sounding about the increasing threat of climate change caused by continued release of human-generated greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

"The delisting of the West Virginia northern flying squirrel is part of the Bush administration's plan to gut the Endangered Species Act by keeping rare species off the list, undercutting protections for some on the list, and removing others from the list altogether," said Judy Rodd, director of Friends of Blackwater, a Maryland-based conservation group. "This is consistent with the Bush administration's move last week to weaken regulations so that Fish and Wildlife scientists no longer advise federal agencies on the impacts of their projects on endangered species or consider the impacts of greenhouse emissions on endangered species," Rodd said.

Bush administration officials claim that threats to the squirrel have been alleviated and that continued presence of the species in some areas for 20 years prove that it is not endangered. In drawing these conclusions, however, the officials ignored the fact that all climate change models show decline for the northern hardwood/red spruce forests that the West Virginia northern flying squirrel calls home. 

"Climate change is a serious threat to the West Virginia northern flying squirrel and countless other species," said Noah Greenwald, science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Bush administration's head-in-the-sand approach to climate change and endangered species is a recipe for extinction for the nation's wildlife."

Administration officials readily admit that not all criteria in the squirrel's recovery plan, which was amended in 2001, have been met. But the officials claim that recovery plans developed under the Endangered Species Act are merely "guidance." In fact, recovery plans are required under the Endangered Species Act to have measurable criteria for determining when a species' endangered status should be delisted (removed from the endangered species list). The plans are developed by a recovery team composed of scientific experts on the species and its habitat.

The administration's failure to follow the squirrel's recovery plan was noted in a 2008 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. "The West Virginia northern flying squirrel offers an example of a species proposed for delisting even though the recovery criteria have not been met," the report stated.

"The administration's decision to remove protection for the West Virginia flying squirrel flies in the face of the science on the species," Rodd said. "Clearly, this is a political move to allow more destruction of the squirrel's forest habitats by logging, mining, and development."

Comments on the proposed delisting from 29 conservation groups that comprise SOS, the Save Our Squirrel coalition, and several world-renowned scientists sharply criticized the assumptions and conclusions in support of removing protection for the species. Among other things, the comments noted that little is known about the squirrel's population trends and that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to analyze all of the threats, particularly from climate change.   

Groups under the SOS umbrella that sent comments to the Fish and Wildlife Service objecting to the delisting of the flying squirrel include: Friends of Blackwater, Center for Biological Diversity, Heartwood, The Wilderness Society, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia E-Council, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Voices, Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, Southern Environmental Law Center, Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, WildLaw, Sierra Club Appalachian Region, Virginia Forest Watch, National Wildlife Federation, Blue Heron Environmental Network, Endangered Species Coalition, American Lands, Potomac Valley Audubon Society, Sustainable Living for West Virginia, Missouri Forest Alliance, Stewards of the Potomac Highlands, Kentucky Heartwood, Maryland Conservation Council, West Virginia Rivers Coalition, La Paix Herb Farm, Friends of the Lower Greenbrier River, Plateau Action Network, and WV Citizens Action Group.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 180,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Friends of Blackwater is a nonprofit citizens group that supports the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex and their educational, interpretive, and public use missions.

 

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