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November 28
1950 - CalArts grad Ed Harris ("A Beautiful Mind," "Apollo 13," "Westworld") born in New Jersey [link]
Ed Harris


Commentary by Mari Carbajal
| Thursday, Mar 5, 2015

maricarbajalBeing a docent-naturalist for the Placerita Canyon Nature Center, I’ve been trained to know about most of the animals that make their homes in our local chaparral, mountains, high deserts and rural communities. Some species are brazen and make themselves known in a community, like the coyote. Others are more secluded and elusive, not often roaming about until dusk, dawn or somewhere in between.

The sad part is, as a naturalist, you’re trained to know the local flora and fauna, but you don’t always get to witness some of the more discreet wildlife first-hand.

Driving northeast on Escondido Canyon Road on my way to Acton one day in January, I noticed a small, rodent-like animal in the road. My first impression was that it was a squirrel. It ran off into the chaparral as I cautiously approached it.

longtailedweasel1smIt looked like a squirrel. It ran like a squirrel. But I’d never seen a squirrel with a dark milk-chocolate coat and light tan patches around its face and neck. I was almost convinced that it was a squirrel, but the squirrels in this area are fox squirrel, gray squirrel or ground squirrel – all of which have bushy tails. This animal was rather slender and had a long tail, but it hardly could be called “bushy.”

I looked online for “Southern California squirrels” in hopes of identifying what I had seen, but to no avail. So I questioned our experts at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center and learned that what I saw was a weasel.

I was thrilled, and even one of the county staff employees admitted she was jealous because it’s an animal she always wished to see in the wild but hadn’t seen as yet. I guess you could say it’s on her “nature bucket list.”

She told me there was a taxidermied weasel in our new museum. When I went to see it up close, I was amazed at how small it was. I always thought weasels were bigger – like a ferret. They’re little guys, even smaller than a squirrel.

flyingIt turned out that was not the only discovery I had made. In researching the squirrels online, I was shocked to find something most incredible. Ready? We actually have flying squirrels in the mountains of San Bernardino!

I was so fascinated that I knew I had to spread the word. Only a couple of my friends said they had heard about them, but most said they had no idea we had flying squirrels in Southern California.

There are 44 species of flying squirrel around the world, and two of those species are in the state of California: the Northern California flying squirrel and the Southern California flying squirrel.

squirrelThe local flying squirrel, Glaucomys sabrinus californiaus, is a rare and smaller cousin of its northern relative. They were thought to be a subspecies of the northern flying squirrel, but the gray-brown San Bernardino flying squirrel has been shown through testing that it is genetically different.

The San Bernardino flying squirrel is medium sized, slightly gray-brown in color, with furry parachute-like skin under each arm that stretches from its wrist to its ankle. This gives the squirrel the ability to fly from branch to branch and glide between the trees. It doesn’t actually fly like a bird but uses its “wings” (skin) to glide in the air, giving it the capability of escaping prey.

squirrel2This adorable creature lives in high elevations of mixed conifer forests that are dominated by Jeffrey pine, black oak and white fir, at approximately 4,600 to 7,550 feet in altitude. They thrive in forests with large trees that have a closed-canopy cover and offer the ability to find snags for nesting.

Truffles and fungi are their main diet. Now I’m finding out we have truffles?

The bad news is that due to climate change, forests are dying and truffles aren’t producing as they should, so the flying squirrels are becoming grossly endangered.

Environmentalists have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put the San Bernardino flying squirrel on the endangered species list.

Per Margot Roosevelt, writer for the L.A. Times, “this squirrel was thought to have disappeared from the San Jacinto Mountains in recent decades, and the remaining population appear to be confined to the higher peaks of the San Bernardino Mountains.”

Truffles and fungi, which are the flying squirrel’s primary food source, depend on wet and cool conditions that are being altered by climate-induced drought. Air pollution along with urban development and the clearing of forests affect this animal’s habitat. Scientists predict that if the current carbon pollution trends continue, one-third of the world’s animals and plants may be extinct by 2050, and up to two-thirds will be threatened with extinction by 2100.

It is every naturalist’s wish to preserve the habitat for all creatures, but for those animals on the endangered list, it becomes much more critical.

Be strong. Be vigilant. Be part of the fight to keep these creatures, and any others, from going extinct. It is important for all “nature loving” people and naturalists to support the fight against extinction of all animals – but this little guy is fighting to retain his place on Earth.

And if you didn’t know they existed in Southern California, now you do. So please help in the effort to keep our ecology strong and secure for generations of endangered species of all kinds to thrive in the future.

And keep your eyes open out there. You never know what you might see or find.

 

Mari Carbajal is a docent-naturalist at the Placerita Canyon Nature Center.

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1 Comment

  1. Bob says:

    Didn’t know that, been in Acton many years. Was exited to see a Golden Eagle years ago…..

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