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SAVING THE WEST VIRGINIA NORTHERN FLYING SQUIRREL

With built-in parachutes, in the form of wing-like flaps of skin stretching from leg to leg, West Virginia northern flying squirrels glide among the trees in the mountains of Appalachia. Flying squirrels are the oldest living line of modern squirrels on the planet, having first appeared 30 million years ago. At home in the forest canopy and on the ground, these dexterous, social and strictly nocturnal critters have become a signature species of the West Virginia highlands. Today they’re caught up in a grisly political battle that will ultimately determine their future survival.

Despite dire projections from recent global warming models predicting the complete disappearance of the West Virginia northern flying squirrels’ habitat, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed all protections afforded to the species by the Endangered Species Act in 2008 — even though Service biologists have admitted that the squirrels are found irregularly and at low densities, and scientific experts have questioned if the squirrel has really rebounded to the point of no longer needing protection. With little evidence supporting claims that the squirrel has recovered, and with backing from the timber industry, the agency ignored the best available science and took action anyway.

After the Center and allies filed suit to save this poster critter of West Virginia’s mountaintop forests, in 2011 a judge reinstated endangered status for the squirrel, holding that the Service had violated the Endangered Species Act by not following its own recovery plan for the species in its decision to remove protection for the rare animal. The same year, the Fish and Wildlife Service officially announced it was back on the endangered species list.

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KEY DOCUMENTS
2011 Court ruling to restore protections
2009 Suit to restore protections
2009 Notice of intent to sue
2008 Delisting final rule
1990 Federal recovery plan

ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT PROFILE

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NATURAL HISTORY

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RELATED ISSUES
Forests
Global Warming and Endangered Species Initiative
The Endangered Species Act

Contact: Noah Greenwald

Northern flying squirrel photo © Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles, California Academy of Sciences