CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge has reversed the U.S. Interior Department's decision in 2008 to take the West Virginia northern flying squirrel off the endangered species list.
U.S. District Judge Emmett G. Sullivan, in Washington, D.C., ruled that agency officials tried to essentially rewrite their own recovery plan for the squirrel without subjecting such changes to required public review and comment.
In a 30-page decision issued Friday, Sullivan sided with the Friends of Blackwater and other groups that filed suit in 2009 over the delisting decision made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Sullivan concluded that the service failed to follow its own recovery plan for the squirrel and instead based its August 2008 removal of the squirrel from the endangered species list on other criteria. The law requires delisting decisions be based on recovery plans, and those plans cannot be revised without public input, the judge said.
Jessica Almy, a lawyer for conservation groups, said the decision is important not just for the flying squirrel, but for nationwide proper implementation of endangered species requirements.
"The ruling means that scientifically based recovery criteria for endangered and threatened species, once having been adopted in the Fish and Wildlife Service's formal recovery plan, cannot be ignored due to political motivation or simple bureaucratic expediency -- in the Service's haste to remove a species from the protections of the act," Almy said.
Vanessa Kauffman, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said her agency is reviewing the ruling and declined further comment.