Half century of conservation efforts recover one of the country’s first endangered species
MILTON, Del. – The U.S. Department of the Interior today announced that due to concerted conservation efforts by states, landowners and others working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, one of the animals included on the first list of endangered species nearly a half century ago, is no longer at risk of extinction.
FWS will officially remove the squirrel from the list of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in December 2015. The recovery was announced by Interior’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Michael Bean today at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Milton, Delaware, along with FWS Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (Delaware), Deputy Secretary Kara Coats of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and other local officials.
“The fox squirrel’s return to this area, rich with farmland and forest, marks not only a major win for conservationists and landowners, but also represents the latest in a string of success stories that demonstrate the Endangered Species Act’s effectiveness,” Bean said. “The Act provides flexibility and incentives to build partnerships with states and private landowners to help recover species while supporting local economic activity. I applaud the states of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, and the many partners who came together over the years to make this day possible.”
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, more than 30 species have been delisted due to recovery, including the bald eagle, American alligator, peregrine falcon and now Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel. Others, such as the whooping crane and the California condor, have been pulled back from the edge of extinction.
“We are truly blessed in Delaware to have a beautiful bayshore with farmland, marshes and landscapes like Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper. “These lands are crucial habitats for a number of species, including the Delmarva fox squirrel. The Endangered Species Act brought this squirrel back from the brink, and I’m excited we can celebrate this victory here in one of its habitats today.”
“This is a major conservation success story that is the result of strong partnerships and good stewardship of our land and wildlife,” said U.S. Senator Chris Coons. “I am so proud of the peninsula's landowners, conservation organizations, and state officials for their work to bring the Delmarva fox squirrel back from the brink of extinction.”
“The natural world is amazingly resilient, especially when a broad collection of partners works together to help it,” said U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Today’s announcement is a major victory for the Endangered Species Act and the Delmarva fox squirrel itself, and much credit is due to the federal biologists who have worked for decades to rebuild the squirrel’s populations. But we could not have reached this point without the many citizen-conservationists who changed the way they managed their forest lands to make this victory possible, and I am deeply appreciative of their efforts. I will continue to champion the work that the Fish and Wildlife Service does to protect endangered species in the future.”
Larger than other squirrel species and generally not found in suburban or urban areas, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel ranged throughout the Delmarva Peninsula of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia before experiencing a sharp decline in the mid-20th century due to forest clearing for agriculture and development, short-rotation timber harvest and over-hunting. With its range reduced more than 90 percent, the squirrel was one of 78 species listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967, the predecessor of the ESA enacted six years later.
“We are proud to be a major partner in the recovery of the Delmarva fox squirrel after 40 years of conservation efforts,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “This success story would not have happened without the cooperation of federal and state agencies and conservation groups, as well as the private property owners of Maryland and Delaware who provided habitat for the endangered species on their own land.”
“The federal delisting of the Delmarva fox squirrel as an endangered species is an exciting milestone in the progress of wildlife conservation in Delaware and throughout the region,” said Deputy Secretary Kara Coats of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. “Although this unique species is secure on the federal level, it is still rare in Delaware. Through our Delmarva Fox Squirrel Conservation Plan, we have a path forward to further enhancing and restoring Delaware’s population of Delmarva fox squirrels as part of our state’s ecological diversity and landscape.”
With more than 80 percent of the squirrel’s home on private land, the squirrel has thrived on the rural, working landscapes of the peninsula where mature forests mix with agricultural fields.
Since listing, the squirrel’s range has increased from four to 10 counties, and a population of up to 20,000 squirrels now covers 28 percent of the Delmarva Peninsula, primarily in Maryland.
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.
Prior to its 2014 proposal to remove the squirrel from the endangered species list, FWS followed a rigorous and detailed process to assess the Delmarva fox squirrel’s extinction risk. The agency’s 2012 five-year review analyzed the status of populations, habitat and threats, considered the delisting criteria from the 1993 recovery plan (PDF), and ultimately recommended to delist the species because it is no longer in danger of extinction. A post-delisting monitoring plan will ensure the squirrel remains secure from extinction.
More information on the Delmarva fox squirrel can be found through the following resources:
● Questions and answers (PDF)
● Recovery fact sheet (PDF)
● Delmarva fox squirrel website (includes links to rule, post-delisting monitoring plan, status reviews, video, photos and other information)