Flying Squirrel: Bush’s Prank Still Not Funny

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Christopher Lancette, The Wilderness Society (202) 429-2692
Judy Rodd, Friends of Blackwater, (304) 345-7663

Flying Squirrel: Bush’s Prank Still Not Funny

Environmental groups call on Obama to restore protection for endangered species

WASHINGTON - George Bush has been out of office for more
than two months on this April fool's Day - but the West Virginia
northern flying squirrel
certainly isn't laughing at the pranks the
former president pulled. His administration removed the charismatic squirrel
from the endangered species list last August, leaving the loveable rodent
hanging in, well, mid air.

Fortunately
for the poster critter of the state's mountaintop forests, a coalition of
West Virginia
and national environmental organizations today extended an olive branch -
filing a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over
its decision to remove the squirrel's protection. This gives the Obama
administration 60 days to right Bush's wrong and avoid needless
litigation.

 "The
Bush administration may have gotten a kick out of destroying habitat and
putting wildlife in danger, but we don't," said Judy Rodd, director of Friends
of Blackwater
, a West Virginia-based conservation group. "The
decision to take the flying squirrel off the endangered species list was a
political move to allow more destruction of the squirrel's forest habitat
for energy extraction and development."

The
Bush administration didn't let itself get tripped up by facts, either,
according to Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director for the Center for Biological Diversity
in Portland, Oregon. "Bush's decision to
de-list the flying squirrel was based on shoddy science," he said, adding
that logging and global warming are severe threats to the nocturnal
mammal's survival. "When you're a species that lives at the
top of the mountain and the forest beneath you disappears because the climate
is warming, you've got nowhere else to go. Even the flying squirrel can
only soar so far."

The
tiny squirrel who appears to fly with a brown cape when in flight is dearly
loved throughout its Appalachian Mountain homeland. Local protectors have even
rallied around a mascot representative of the species they affectionately call
"Ginny." The effort has caught the attention of some powerful
allies. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), chairman
of the House Committee on Natural Resources and long time supporter of the
Endangered Species Act (ESA), conducted two hearings on the issue during the
past few years. At a 2007 hearing on the ESA, Rahall said that the U.S.
Interior Department "seems bent on abdicating its mandated
responsibilities" under the law "to protect God's creatures
for future generations."   

The
groups contend that the Bush administration illegally removed the West Virginia northern
flying squirrel from the endangered species list. They go on to allege that
Fish and Wildlife ignored an official species recovery plan and the
recommendations of independent scientists - pointing to a U.S. Government
Accountability Office report that concluded the agency failed to follow the
squirrel's recovery plan. The groups also say that the squirrel still has
a very small population, and that logging, oil and gas drilling, mining, road
building, and climate change threaten its sensitive habitat.

"We're
hoping that a lawsuit won't be necessary now that Bush is out of
office," Rodd said. "The 60-day notice we've given the Fish
and Wildlife Service gives us a very good opportunity to work with the Obama
administration to bring Ginny home."

The
organizations defending the flying squirrel are: Center for Biological
Diversity, Friends of Blackwater, Heartwood, Southern Appalachian Forest
Coalition, The Wilderness Society, and WildSouth. The organizations are
represented by Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, a Washington, D.C.
public interest law firm.

Photos Available: Photographs of the flying squirrel are available for
press use. Contact Judy Rodd for
them.

Additional Sources: Contact any of the following for additional insight:
Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495; Hugh Irwin,
Southern Appalachian Forest Coalition, (828) 252-9223; Ben Prater, Wild South
(828) 258-2667, and Leigh Haynie, Heartwood, (337) 962-6387.

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Since 1935, The Wilderness Society has led the conservation movement in wilderness protection, writing and passing the landmark Wilderness Act and winning lasting protection for 107 million acres of Wilderness, including 56 million acres of spectacular lands in Alaska, eight million acres of fragile desert lands in California and millions more throughout the nation.

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