The Delmarva fox squirrel (DFS) was a federally endangered subspecies of fox squirrel that lives on the Delmarva Peninsula of MD, DE, and VA. But, now no more. Thankfully, however, this story has a happy ending. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will officially remove the squirrel from the list of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in December 2015.
Dr. Carol Bocetti, a professor in the Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences at California University of Pennsylvania said that in the past numbers of the squirrel plummeted precipitously as forests it depended on in the Delmarva Peninsula were cleared for agriculture and development. More than 90 percent of its range was eliminated, and by the mid-1960s, the squirrel’s survival was in doubt.
Dr. Bob Gardner and Dr. Bob Hilderbrand stated that their work on DFS was used by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to guide the management and recovery of the squirrel. Their model predictions are also being used to determine if and where population reintroductions may be feasible and how many squirrels need to be released initially to maximize the chances of success.
The squirrels were included in the list of endangered species in 1967 because only 10 per cent of their population remained. The Delmarva fox squirrel looks similar to the small gray squirrels seen in a number of US cities and suburbs. The squirrel can grow up to 30 inches long and weigh of up to 3 pounds. The Delmarva fox squirrel prefers peaceful woodlands to suburbs or urban parklands.
“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 move has been due for quite some time. About 78 species are listed under the original Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1967 and the squirrel was one of them. The act is a forerunner of today’s Endangered Species Act, which became law in 1973.
The squirrel has been on considered an endangered species for decades but the FWS recently announced that the animal has successfully recovered from near dropping their numbers.
As compared to other squirrel species, Delmarva fox squirrels are larger at about 15 inches in body length, minus the tail. Other squirrels are often seen in urban and suburban environments. They are spotted more in rural, forested lands and in agricultural fields.
Before it made its way onto the endangered list, the DFS once lived in high numbers on the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) Peninsula. During the middle of the 20th century, forest clearing for timber cleared out massive areas of forest, and along with the clearing came agriculture, development, and hunting that led to a severe decline of the animal.
Thankfully, the numbers of the squirrel have started to rise and it is no longer considered at risk of extinction. The FWS has now spread to areas such as the Blackwater (Maryland), Chincoteague (Virginia) and Prime Hook (Delaware) national wildlife refuges for the squirrel.
According to the FWS, the squirrel has increased its range, since being listed, from four to 10 counties. The population has risen to 20,000, covering nearly 30 percent of the peninsula, primarily in Maryland.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Michael Bean, “The Act offers flexibility and incentives to build partnerships with states and private landowners to help recuperate species while sustaining 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 happen.”