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Center for Biological Diversity:
West Virginia northern flying squirrel
The New York Times, June 17, 2011

Bullwinkle, Rejoice
By John M. Broder

The federal government has reinstated endangered species protection for the Virginia northern flying squirrel, also known as the West Virginia northern flying squirrel, also known as the inspiration for Rocket J. Squirrel, the airborne mammalian superhero and nemesis of Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale.

The service had taken the squirrel off the endangered species list in 2008 near the end of the Bush administration, even though the animal had been protected since 1985, when it was determined to be on the edge of extinction. Environmental groups successfully sued the agency to have the species returned to protected status.

The squirrel, known formally as Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus, lives at high elevations in the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia and adjacent territory in Virginia.

The creature has lived in North America since the time of the mastodons and was isolated from other species of squirrels when ice sheets covering North America receded about 10,000 years ago, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency said Thursday that it did not believe the squirrel was in danger of extinction but that it was resuming protection under the court order. Here is the service’s description of the critter, and how it flies:

“Small nocturnal animals, West Virginia northern flying squirrels are covered with soft, dense, silky fur that is brownish above and grayish beneath. Individuals are about a foot long, half of which is the broad, flat tail, and weigh less than five ounces. These squirrels glide in the air on the parachute created when they stretch all four legs and pull the loose folds of skin (patagia) between their fore and hind legs taut. Although biologists do not know for sure, females are thought to have one litter of up to four young each year; the expected life span is thought to be about four years. These squirrels seem to live in small groups and commonly share nests. They communicate with high-pitched chirps.

Unlike other squirrels, West Virginia northern flying squirrels remain active in the winter. Their large, dark eyes enable these squirrels to see in low light. During the night, the squirrels are very active moving among trees and on the ground. Again unlike other squirrels, West Virginia northern flying squirrels usually forage on lichen and fungi growing above and below ground instead of eating nuts.”

The agency said that the squirrel was able to recover because its red spruce highland habitat has been restored.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which was among a coalition of groups that sued to protect Rocky, welcomed the move.

“Threatened by logging, development and climate change, the West Virginia flying squirrel needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act to survive and recover,” Bethany Cotton, an attorney with the group, said in a statement. “From now on, the Fish and Wildlife Service must follow its own science-based recovery plans before taking protections away from endangered species.”

Mr. Badenov and Ms. Fatale said through a spokesman that they were not pleased.

© 2011 The New York Times Company

This article originally appeared here.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton