Duke Energy Gives Endangered Mammals a Platform for Survival
Thanks to specially erected crossing structures provided by Duke Energy, the endangered Carolina Northern flying squirrels have a better chance of survival.
Northern flying squirrels move by gliding from tree to tree, but the width of the canopy gap across the Cherohala Skyway in western North Carolina exceeds their gliding ability. This created two stranded populations, one on each side of the road.
The Cherohala Skyway is a National Scenic Byway that crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina.
The crossing structures, wood poles donated and installed by Duke Energy in 2008, serve as artificial trees to help the pint-size mammals glide across the skyway — and access more foraging habitat, den sites and mates.
In 2010, videos captured by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission show the flying squirrels using the crossing structures to glide to the other side of the skyway. Also, for the first time, individual squirrels were found using dens on both sides of the skyway. Prior to the installation of the crossing structures, they did not cross the skyway.
Reconnecting the populations leads to enhanced gene flow with less risk of genetic impacts and less susceptibility to catastrophic events, such as loss of habitat. Carolina Northern flying squirrels inhabit spruce-fir and northern hardwood forests in just eight high-elevation areas in the state.
The N.C. Department of Transportation, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Duke Energy and the Wildlife Commission worked together to designate movement corridors along the skyway. These segments were posted with “Do Not Mow” signs to promote tree growth so the poles can eventually be removed.