- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2001

Environmentalists trying to stop a logging project inadvertently killed many of the woodland critters they were trying to save, including one endangered species of flying squirrel.
The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy trapped animals on land owned by Allegheny Wood Products in Blackwater Canyon to establish that timber harvesting would adversely affect or kill endangered species.
The trappings resulted in the deaths of one-third of the animals captured, including one endangered Virginia northern flying squirrel, and 11 other animals southern flying squirrels, red squirrels, chipmunks and deer mice, according to court documents.
Biologist Edwin D. Michael testified during the two-year lawsuit brought by the environmental group that the trappings were "reckless, and resulted in an unusually high mortality rate for individuals of all the species captured and the unnecessary death of a northern flying squirrel."
The trappings occurred last winter, and Mr. Michael, who testified for Allegheny Wood Products, estimated that animals could have stayed trapped for 12 to 14 hours before being released during daylight hours.
The lawsuit was settled last month and the company was allowed to continue timber operations, but it must give the environmental group advance notice.
Judy Rodd, senior vice president of the West Virginia Highlands Conservation group, said scientists they hired to conduct research had a state permit that allowed for the "taking" or accidental killing of an endangered species, so federal laws were not violated.
The permit was administered by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources under an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Fines for killing endangered species without a permit run as high as $25,000 and up to one year in prison.
Miss Rodd said accidental deaths when dealing with endangered species are "pretty common when people are doing research" because they are "handling something that is not used to being handled."
Asked if they were concerned about animals dying during the process, Miss Rodd said, "What do you mean 'concern'? Of course you wouldn't want to hurt any little critter, but you can do more permanent or long-term damage by cutting down trees it depends on for food and shelter."
The Interior Department noted the squirrel "died as a result of capture," but said the take was "properly permitted and reported," and Allegheny Wood Products was not found liable for the killing on its property.
"The death of even one individual of a federally listed species is a highly undesirable and regrettable event, and I fully understand your concern over such an occurrence on your property," said Jeffrey K. Towner, field supervisor for the Interior Department's West Virginia field office.
When attorneys for Allegheny Wood Products learned animals were dying in traps meant for research, they asked the case be resolved.
Continuing the program "would unduly delay resolution of the case and risk additional harm to wildlife while West Virginia Highlands Conservancy engages further in a fishing expedition for information to bolster its long-running philosophical dispute with Allegheny Wood Products over the use of [its] private property," the company's attorneys said.
The attorneys argued that their biologist, Mr. Michael, had conducted similar trapping and research, but with no animal fatalities.
"The only actual death or injury to a member of the species of which Allegheny Wood Products is aware has occurred at West Virginia Highlands Conservancy's hands, not Allegheny Wood Products'," the company said.
Miss Rodd said her group is optimistic the company will cooperate with the notification agreement, but that their main goal is to convince the company to sell its property into public ownership of the state.

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