Department of the Interior
April 5, 2000
NORTHERN IDAHO GROUND SQUIRREL
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today listed the northern Idaho ground squirrel, an animal found only in Idaho, as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A species is designated as threatened if it is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.
The northern Idaho ground squirrel has the smallest geographic range of any squirrel species and one of the smallest ranges among all North American mainland mammals. Its entire range covers an area about 18 miles by 20 miles on public and private lands north of Council, Idaho, although historically the range may have been much larger, extending southeast to Round Valley near Cascade, Idaho.
"The northern Idaho ground squirrel has lived in Idaho since before the Pleistocene era nearly two million years ago, but in recent years loss of habitat has caused a sharp population decline," said Anne Badgley, regional director of the Services Pacific Region. "Fire suppression is the primary reason for the loss of habitat because it allows forests to encroach into the meadows where the species lives, but other threats include land conversion for agricultural and residential development and loss of open corridors between remaining populations."
The northern Idaho ground squirrel is about 9 inches long. It appears dark with reddish-brown spots and a dark undercoat and has a short narrow tail, conspicuous ears, and tan feet. The squirrel lives in dry, rocky meadows surrounded by forests of ponderosa pine or Douglas fir at elevations of about 3,800 feet to 5,200 feet. It eats mainly grass seeds and other green leafy vegetation. It needs large quantities of these food sources to store body energy for the eight months it spends dormant underground from August through March.
As recently as 1985, biologists estimated there were 5,000 northern Idaho ground squirrels in Adams and Valley counties. By 1998, fewer than 1,000 squirrels were found on private property, lands administered by the State of Idaho, and the Payette National Forest. Population sites range from 3 acres to 40 acres.
The State of Idaho recognizes the northern Idaho ground squirrel as a "species of special concern," which protects it from being killed or possessed. The Service has been working with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, other Federal agencies, and private landowners to reduce threats and implement recovery strategies that may reverse the steep decline of this species.
The Payette National Forest signed a conservation agreement with the Service in 1996 to protect and enhance habitat for the species. The Forest Service is undertaking actions to improve its habitat, including thinning stands of timber to open more meadow habitat to recolonization and controlled burning of shrubby meadows to create additional grassland and leafy vegetation.
A major portion of the northern Idaho ground squirrel population occurs on a single ranch. The owner of the ranch has been cooperating with the Service in efforts to study the squirrels and relocate them to Forest Service land.
Scientists from Cornell University and Albertson College initiated an experimental transplantation plan in 1997. To date, the scientists have moved 76 squirrels to two sites, but success will not be known for another two to three years.
The Service published the decision to list the species in todays Federal Register. The complete file for this rule is available for inspection, by appointment, during normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Snake River Basin Office 1387 South Vinnell Way, Room 368, Boise, Idaho 83709.
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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.