Biologist devotes her career to protecting flying squirrels

Christine Kelly of Asheville, a wildlife diversity biologist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, has been awarded the 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.

In addition to monitoring and surveying populations of the species, Kelly’s work includes designing launch poles in Western North Carolina. They were installed along the Cherohala Skyway to allow the flying squirrel to glide across the road, making up for gaps where there are no trees to launch from. The crossing structures, installed by Duke Energy in 2008, give the small mammals access to more foraging habitat, den sites and mates.

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

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 ravaged Fraser fir forests, 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 state since 2005. Before that, she worked for the U.S. Forest Service.

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