Squirrely decision could doom flying squirrel to extinction

Leave it to the Bush Administration to ignore its own scientific experts. Yesterday, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced that the West Virginia northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus fuscus) will lose its protected status under the Endangered Species Act, despite recommendations from experts that the species not be delisted.

The Interior Department invited three experts to weigh in on the plan to delist the squirrel. According to The Charleston Gazette, two of the experts "said the agency had little data to support its claim that the squirrel has recovered." The Interior Department went ahead and decided to delist the species anyway.

While the northern flying squirrel has definitely recovered over the last 20 years -- there were just 10 known squirrels when the species was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1985 -- some fear the government has "cooked the books" in its counts of the speices' current population. Government estimates say there are 1,200 squirrels, but the Center for Biological Diversity cries foul, saying that may squirrels were counted more than once. The CBD estimates the true squirrel population at around 654. (The Interior Department has since backed off its 1,200 number, and now claims there are around 900 of them.)

Here's the kicker: the delisting was supported by timber companies and the West Virginia's Divisions of Forestry and Natural Resources. Looks like business interests have won out over science once again.