North Carolina Wildlife Diversity Biologist Wins Award for Work with Flying Squirrels


Wildlife Diversity Biologist Christine Kelly of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has been awarded a 2011 Recovery Champion Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The award, which was given to nine individuals across the country, honors U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees and partners for outstanding efforts to conserve and protect threatened species of fish, wildlife and plants. Kelly was honored for her work with the Carolina northern flying squirrel, an endangered species found isolated in small populations in only the highest mountains in North Carolina.

“Recovery champions are helping listed species get to the point at which they are secure in the wild and no longer need Endangered Species Act protection,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “These groups and individuals have done amazing work in helping to bring dozens of species back from the brink of extinction, while improving habitat that benefits many other species and local communities.”

Kelly’s work included designing launch poles to help the squirrels cross Cherohala Skyway in Western North Carolina. The crossing structures, installed by Duke Energy in 2008, give the small mammals access to more foraging habitat, den sites and mates.


“Working with threatened and endangered species can be a challenge, so every conservation success is worth celebrating,” Kelly said. “I’ve been so pleased with our success with these squirrels, and I like that my coworkers and I on the mountain diversity crew spend time working together on each other’s projects. This is a success for all of us, and habitat improvements for the northern flying squirrel will also mean good things for other species such as the weller’s salamander and northern saw whet owl.”

As part of Kelly’s work, she identifies, examines and weighs the squirrels, and places ear tags on them. See videos of this work here and here.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service award also honored Kelly for a partnership with the U.S. Forest Service and Appalachian Mountain Joint Ventures to plant red spruce, an important habitat for the squirrel. The balsam woolly adelgid has reduced Fraser fir trees and the hemlock woolly adelgid is reducing high elevation Eastern hemlocks, both important conifers for the squirrel.

Kelly is also working with Virginia Tech on a vocalization study of the squirrels using acoustic detectors to help locate the species. This could be used for rapid surveys and long-term monitoring of the squirrel.

Kelly has worked for the Wildlife Commission since 2005. Before that, she worked for the U.S. Forest Service. She lives with her husband, Dan Bennett, in Asheville.

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