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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Determines That Listing Big Cypress Fox Squirrel Is Not Warranted


February 25, 2002

Jim Rothschild, 404/679-7291
David Martin, 561/562-3909, Ext. 230

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that, after reviewing all available scientific and commercial information, it has determined that listing the Big Cypress fox squirrel (Sciurus niger avicennia) as a threatened species with critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 is not warranted at this time.

“We will continue to seek new information on the biology, ecology, distribution, and habitat of the Big Cypress fox squirrel, as well as potential threats to its continued existence. If additional data become available in the future that suggest the squirrel may require the protection of the Endangered Species Act, we may reassess the need for listing,” said Sam Hamilton, Regional Director for the Service’s Southeast Region.

The Service received a petition on January 5, 1998, from the Biodiversity Legal Foundation, Sidney Maddock, the Florida Biodiversity Project, and Brian and Rosalyn Scherf seeking to list the Big Cypress fox squirrel as a threatened species and to designate critical habitat concurrently with listing. The petitioners stated that the Big Cypress fox squirrel is threatened by several factors, including habitat loss, fragmentation, and modification; exclusion of fire; predation; road mortality; and poaching.

After receiving the petition, the Service conducted an initial 90-day review of available scientific and commercial information and found that the petition to list the Big Cypress fox squirrel presented substantial information indicating that listing may be warranted. Today’s finding concludes the more substantive status review triggered by that initial 90-day finding, and was issued in compliance with a settlement agreement reached by the Service and the petitioners in September 2001.

This status review found that while the Big Cypress fox squirrel has lost habitat in some areas to urbanization, agriculture and mining, the squirrel still occupies most of its historic range in southwest Florida and has shown itself to be adaptable by residing in altered habitats such as golf courses and residential areas where native habitat is preserved. Based on the best available information, there appears to be more than twice as much potential Big Cypress fox squirrel habitat than what was previously estimated. Therefore, the Service concluded that the Big Cypress fox squirrel is not threatened or endangered due to the destruction or curtailment of its habitat or range.

The Service found no evidence that the species is threatened by poaching, disease or predation. In addition, data does not exist to show that existing laws and regulations are inadequate to ensure the Big Cypress fox squirrel’s survival.

The Big Cypress fox squirrel is a subspecies of the fox squirrel (Sciurus niger), which occurs over most of the eastern and central United States, extending into south-central Canada. The Big Cypress fox squirrel is restricted to southwest Florida (Hendry, Lee, Collier, Monroe, and extreme western Miami-Dade Counties). This subspecies is adapted for life in the forests of southwestern Florida, where the annual cycle of flood, drought, and frequent fires create unique conditions. Coloration of Big Cypress fox squirrels is variable, ranging from buff to black, though it typically has a buff stomach and bands on the tail hairs, white toes, muzzle and eartips, black or blackish markings on the head, and a salt-and-pepper gray or blackish-gray back. The Big Cypress fox squirrel is smaller than fox squirrels elsewhere in Florida.

For additional information on this matter, contact David Martin of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s South Florida Ecological Services Office at 1339 20th Street, Vero Beach, Florida 32960, telephone 561/562-3909, Ext. 230.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 540 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries and 78 Ecological Services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees a Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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