The tiny northern flying squirrel has a new way to get around in the Unicoi Mountains along the North Carolina Carolina-Tennessee border — modified utility poles.
State wildlife and transportation officials, working with Duke Energy and Western Carolina University representatives, worked together to put up the poles, which aim to serve as artificial trees and allow the flying squirrels to jump across the Cherohala Skyway.
Construction of the 36-mile road was completed in 1996 and cut through the foot-long squirrel’s habitat. The road is an engineering wonder that cost $100 million and winds up and over 5,400-foot mountains and descends into forested Tellico Plains, Tenn.
Construction required major clearing, and trees have yet to grow tall enough to serve as suitable jumping-off points for the squirrels.
“We’ve used radio transmitters to study some of the squirrels, and we know they are not getting across the road,” said N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission Biologist Chris Kelly in a written news release. “If they use these poles, they’ll be able to get to the other side, reconnecting habitat and animals on both sides of the Skyway.”
The commission plans to use the radio transmitters to monitor the squirrels and see if they actually use the fake trees to get around. Duke Energy donated the poles and a crew from Robbinsville in Graham County to put them up.
— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor