Conserving the Nature of America
Press Release
Secretary Jewell Announces Conservation Success Story in Recovery of Delmarva Fox Squirrel
Delmarva Fox Squirrel Now Proposed for Removal from Endangered Species List Near Half Decade of Conservation Efforts by Landowners, Other Partners Key to Rebound

September 19, 2014

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CAMBRIDGE, Md. – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that due to concerted conservation efforts by landowners and other partners, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, one of the animals included on the first list of endangered species nearly a half century ago, has recovered across many parts of its historic range and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to remove it from the Endangered Species List.

“The Delmarva fox squirrel is a perfect example of how the Endangered Species Act works not only to pull plants and animals back from the brink of extinction but can also provide flexibility to states and private landowners to help with recovery efforts while at the same time supporting important economic activity,” Secretary Jewell said. “This success story is the result of a partnership with several state wildlife agencies, conservation groups, landowners and countless other stakeholders working hand in hand with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to protect the Delmarva fox squirrel. This is a model for how the Act is designed to work.”

“Today’s announcement shows that through dedication, hard work and successful partnerships, together, we can accomplish great things,” said Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. “Not only did federal and state agencies join forces, the citizens of Maryland and Delaware were also paramount to the recovery of the Delmarva fox squirrel, providing habitat for the endangered species on their own private land.”

The ESA has been successful in conserving imperiled wildlife, preventing the extinction of more than 99 percent of the species listed as threatened or endangered since 1973. In addition, 29 species have been delisted due to recovery, including the bald eagle, American alligator and peregrine falcon. Others, such as the whooping crane and the California condor, have been pulled back from the edge of extinction. Under the ESA, a species is considered endangered when it is at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. It is considered threatened when it is at risk of becoming endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range. 

“This not-so-little squirrel is emblematic of the big things possible when we work together to realize our commitments to restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay's ecosystem for fish, wildlife, and people too,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Water and Wildlife Subcommittee. “A combination of coordinated conservation efforts among our farmers, private foresters, public land managers and field biologists made this effort a success. When we replicate this process of partnership, and coordinate conservation action over and over again, our communities and ecosystems across the watershed will benefit tremendously.”

Larger than other squirrel species and generally not found in urban areas, the Delmarva fox squirrel ranged throughout the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) Peninsula before experiencing a sharp decline in the mid-20th century due to clearing of forest for agriculture and development, short-rotation timber harvest and over-hunting. With its range reduced more than 90 percent, the squirrel was one of 67 species listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967, the predecessor law of the Endangered Species Act, which was enacted six years later. With more than 80 percent of this squirrel’s home on private land, Delmarva residents played a major role in the recovery of this species with many providing habitat for squirrels on private lands across the range. The squirrel has thrived on the rural, working landscapes of the peninsula where mature forests mix with agricultural fields.

“The Delmarva fox squirrel joins the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon and the American alligator as symbols of ESA recovery success,” added U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “The recovery of this ‘class of ‘67’ species marks a major milestone in decades of endangered species recovery efforts. We thank our conservation partners, particularly the private landowners and state wildlife agencies, whose continued commitment to the species will ensure it continues to thrive.”

Since listing, the squirrel’s range has increased from four to 10 counties, with a current population of up to 20,000 squirrels covering 28 percent of the Delmarva Peninsula. Efforts contributing to recovery include translocation of animals to establish new populations, closing of the targeted hunting season, growth and dispersal of the population, and protection of large forested areas for habitat.  The Blackwater (Maryland), Chincoteague (Virginia) and Prime Hook (Delaware) national wildlife refuges provide unique opportunities to see this animal.

“Delaware biologists have worked hard to improve much-needed habitat that has helped the fox squirrel move from imminent risk of extinction to recovery,” said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary David Small. “While the species is still rare in Delaware with only two known populations, DNREC's Division of Fish and Wildlife will continue to advance its management and conservation plan aimed at making the species common enough in Delaware to be removed from the state’s endangered species list as well.” 

“In the past seven years, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has set the stage for expanding native Delmarva fox squirrel populations on Virginia’s Eastern Shore by identifying suitable translocation sites that meet the squirrel’s ecological needs,” said David Whitehurst, Director of the Virginia Bureau of Wildlife Resources. “The federal delisting of the species will ease the process of performing future translocations in the state and will help garner interest among private landowners with established habitat to have squirrels released on their lands.  We commend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on its decision to delist the species and look forward to assisting with continued efforts to increase fox squirrel populations throughout the Delmarva Peninsula.”

The Service followed a rigorous and detailed process to assess Delmarva fox squirrel’s extinction risk in its 2012 five-year review, which recommended delisting the species because it is no longer in danger of extinction. The review focused on new information obtained since a 2007 five-year review, analyzed the status of the populations, habitat and threats, and considered the delisting criteria from the 1993 recovery plan (PDF). The proposed rule further describes this analysis and will be available for public comment from Tuesday, September 23, 2014, to November 24, 2014 at www.regulations.gov, under docket no. FWS–R5–ES–2014–0021. The proposal will be available September 22 at https://www.federalregister.gov/public-inspection.

The species remains protected under the ESA until the Service reviews all public comments on its proposal and makes a final decision to remove the species from the List of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife. If the Delmarva fox squirrel is delisted, a post-delisting monitoring plan would ensure the squirrel remains secure from extinction.

More information on the Delmarva fox squirrel can be found through the following resources:

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