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CBD - San Bernardino Flying Squirrel, San Jacinto Mountains, ESA
Officials to Study Flying Squirrels
BY JANET ZIMMERMAN
The Press Enterprise STAFF WRITER
Published: 31 January 2012 04:53 PM
Lawsuit Settlement Forces Endangered Species Review
Officials will study the animal and its habitat to see if it should get endangered status.
Flying squirrels glide among trees by spreading their legs, allowing flaps of skin to catch air.
Federal wildlife officials have agreed to review the status of the San Bernardino flying squirrel — once plentiful in the San Jacinto Mountains — to see if the distinctive animal warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday that a petition filed in 2010 by the Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson-based environmental group, provided “substantial” information showing that climate change, development, domestic and feral cats and forest fuels management may be threatening the squirrel’s habitat and range.
“People once had the pleasure of spotting flying squirrels gliding through the forests and visiting their porches at night in the San Jacinto Mountains, but not anymore,” said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s a tremendous loss. The flying squirrel needs the immediate protections of the Endangered Species Act to ensure that it doesn’t suffer any more declines.”
Fish and Wildlife will conduct a review to see if the squirrel should be protected. The agency is soliciting information about the squirrel and its habitat from state and federal agencies and the public until April 2. Animals protected under the Endangered Species Act cannot be harmed, traded or sold, and habitat deemed critical to their survival cannot be degraded.
The status review decision was the result of a settlement agreement on a lawsuit the center filed against Fish and Wildlife. The settlement requires decisions on protection for 757 plants and animals, including 51 species in California, Wolf said.
Flying squirrels are nocturnal critters that use furred membranes between their feet and front paws to soar up to 300 feet. They have nearly disappeared from the Idyllwild area, where residents reported seeing them regularly, gliding between trees, until the past few decades.
The center’s petition for protection detailed the threats to the animals: They risk running out of suitable land as a warming climate pushes their habitat upward and squeezes out the fungal truffles they eat. The truffles rely on cool temperatures and moisture. In addition, forest thinning removes the tree canopy the squirrels need, and expanding communities eat up more of their habitat, the group said.
The animals still live in the San Bernardino Mountains around Big Bear, though officials don’t know how many. The local species are a sub-set of the more plentiful northern flying squirrel that lives across much of the United States.
How to comment
ONLINE — The public can submit comments online at www.regulations.gov through April 2. In the search box, enter docket number FWS-R8-ES-2011-0114; in the search panel on the left side of the screen, under the document type heading, click on the proposed rules link to locate the document. Submit a comment by clicking on “submit a comment.”
BY MAIL — Information also can be submitted in writing to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R8-ES-2011-0114; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, Va., 22203.