A lawsuit filed Tuesday against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims the department isn't doing enough to protect a rare species of flying squirrel that lives in the San Bernandino mountains.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit in federal court, claiming the Fish and Wildlife Service should designate the squirrel an endangered species, which would allow for better forest management in its natural habitat.
The flying squirrel faces "the triple threat of climate change, habitat destruction and cat predation," the Center said in a statement.
In 2010, the Center filed a petition with the Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the squirrel under the Endangered Species Act. The federal service determined in 2012 that the species may warrant special protection, but the lawsuit claims the service violated the Endangered Species Act in failing to make a finding within 12 months.
"This lawsuit is to get a firm date for that decision," said Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center.
The Fish and Wildlife Service denied a request for comment, saying it does not speak on ongoing litigation.
Getting endangered species protection for the squirrel would improve forest management, Wolf said. This includes ensuring forest services protects features that are important for the squirrel's habitat, such as forest canopy, old trees and logs on the forest floor. Wolf said the federal government should also be doing more to combat climate change, which causes the forests to become warmer and dryer and threatens the truffles that the flying squirrels eat.
The San Bernandino flying squirrels are small mammals that can glide between trees up to 300 feet. They were originally found in the San Bernandino and San Jacinto mountains, but the Center said they have disappeared from the San Jacinto mountains in recent decades. Scientists have concluded the remaining San Bernandino mountain population occurs in very low density, Wolf said.
"It's been lost already from one of the two mountain ranges where it lives," Wolf said. "It's in great danger of being lost forever from southern California."
Along with the flying squirrel, the Center is also pushing for nine other species in the country to be given endangered species protection.