For Immediate Release, August 3, 2021

Contact:

Robin Silver, (602) 799-3275, rsilver@biologicaldiversity.org

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Delays Decision on Revising Critical Habitat for Mount Graham Red Squirrels

Displaced by Wildfire, Development, Nearly All Remaining Squirrels Now Living Outside Protected Areas

TUSCON, Ariz.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has delayed providing urgently needed revisions to the critical habitat essential to the survival and recovery of southeast Arizona’s highly endangered Mount Graham red squirrels.

Mount Graham red squirrels live only in the Pinaleño Mountains on Mount Graham, an isolated “sky island” range in southeastern Arizona. Nearly all the squirrels are now living outside the currently designated protected areas, which include only spruce-fir forests above 9,200 feet. An October 2020 census found 109 squirrels, though historically the population numbers fluctuate dramatically.

“It’s deeply disappointing to see the Fish and Wildlife Service continue to delay providing Mount Graham red squirrels with the protected habitat they need to survive,” said Robin Silver, cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Between wildfires and the destruction of their habitat by development, these squirrels will go extinct right before our eyes if proper steps to protect them aren’t taken now.”

The squirrels no longer live in the area originally designated as critical habitat because it has been destroyed by the construction of mountaintop telescopes, wildfires and fires set unnecessarily to protect the telescopes. Firefighting efforts have focused on protecting the University of Arizona’s telescopes and recreational structures instead of habitat.

In December 2017 the Center and Maricopa Audubon petitioned the Service to update the squirrel’s critical habitat to include lower-elevation, mixed-conifer forests. The Service stated this week it will review revisions to the squirrel’s critical habitat at an unspecified time after a species status assessment and revised recovery plan are completed.

The Forest Service has claimed that cabins and other recreational buildings that should have been removed to protect the squirrel should not be removed because they are not in designated critical habitat. In fact, that area is the only substantive restorable habitat and is critically needed to help the squirrels get through the habitat bottleneck and move from one area to another.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.