SAN FRANCISCO–(ENEWSPF)–January 31 – In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today issued an initial positive decision to protect the San Bernardino flying squirrel under the Endangered Species Act due to threats from climate change and habitat destruction. The Service will now conduct a status review to decide whether the squirrel will be protected under the Act. The initial positive decision was made in accordance with a landmark settlement agreement reached in 2011 between the Center for Biological Diversity and the Service that requires protection decisions for 757 species.
“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. “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.”
The San Bernardino flying squirrel is a subspecies of the northern flying squirrel that historically inhabited conifer forests on two mountain ranges in Southern California. It is thought to have disappeared from one of these ranges — the San Jacinto Mountains — in the past few decades. The remaining population, which is isolated to the upper-elevation forests of the San Bernardino Mountains, faces numerous threats. With climate change, the squirrels’ forest habitat is moving upslope as temperatures warm, and increasing drought conditions threaten its truffle fungus food, which depends on wet, cool conditions. Forest-management practices that remove canopy cover, snags and downed logs are degrading the squirrel’s habitat, and ever-increasing urban development and population growth is encroaching on its mountain habitat.
Climate change poses a particular threat to many high-elevation species, like the San Bernardino flying squirrel, when habitat is pushed upslope, leaving them with nowhere to go. If current carbon pollution trends continue, scientists predict that climate change may commit one-third of the world’s animals and plants to extinction by 2050 and threaten up to two-thirds with extinction by 2100.
“Declines of species like the San Bernardino flying squirrel clarify the need for strong, immediate action on climate change,” said Wolf. “Animals and plants around the globe, from the remote poles to our own backyard, are suffering the effects of climate change and can’t wait any longer for protection.”