Delmarva Fox Squirrel Removed from Endangered Species List

By Caroline E. Murphy

Image Credit: Guy Willey, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Northeast Region, licensed by cc 2.0

One of the first subspecies to be listed as federally endangered over 45 years ago has made its way back from the brink of extinction, thanks in large part to collaborate conservation efforts between state and federal agencies as well as private landowners.

On November 13 the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced the delisting of the Delmarva fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus), one of ten subspecies of the eastern fox squirrel (Sciurus niger). Once occurring throughout forested areas in the Delmarva Peninsula, which includes portions of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, the subspecies was down to 10% of its historic range at the time of listing in 1967.

At the time of listing, major threats to the Delmarva fox squirrel included hunting and habitat loss as a result of timber production, agriculture, and development. Efforts to reverse the species’ decline have been centered on collaborative efforts between federal, state, and private partners.

Reintroduction of squirrels has been the dominate method used by state and federal stakeholders to rebound numbers. Through translocation efforts, 11 new populations have been established and the subspecies now occupies 10 Delmarva counties. More than 80% of these individuals reside on private lands thanks in large part to improved landowner habitat management practices.

The subspecies has also benefited from government investment into their habitat. The State Wildlife Grants program has allowed states such as Delaware to purchase important fox squirrel habitat and has also played a critical role in funding state conservation management plans.

Today, the Delmarva fox squirrel population is estimated at 20,000 individuals. The success of these Endangered Species Act (ESA) collaborative efforts was evident in the delisting announcement at the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Milton, Delaware. Representatives from the federal, state, and local levels were present at the announcement, including U.S. Department of Interior Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Michael Bean, USFWS Northeast Regional Director Wendi Weber, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Deputy Secretary Kara Coats, and other local officials.

During the announcement, Michael Bean talked up the collaborative nature of the ESA, stating “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.”

Sources: Greenwire (November 13, 2015), USFWS Questions and answers about removal from the List of Threatened and Endangered Species (November 13, 2015) USFWS Press Release (March 4, 2015), USFWS Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel Fact Sheet

Caroline Murphy is the Government Affairs Associate at The Wildlife Society as part of the Government Affairs & Partnership program.

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