The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that it will be removing the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel from its Endangered species list next month. The squirrel was one of 78 species added to the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1967, which was a forerunner of today’s Endangered Species Act which became law in 1973.
Delmarva fox squirrels are larger than other species of squirrel weighing about three pounds and as long as 15 inches in body length, not including their tails. Unlike typical squirrels, they are not usually found in urban and suburban environments, but instead are found in forested, rural lands and in agricultural fields.
They once ranged in large numbers along the Delaware, Maryland and Virginia peninsula, but by the mid-20th century forest clearing for harvesting timber, agriculture, development, and hunting decimated the animal almost completely.
Now, however, the population of these squirrels is robust enough that they can be removed from endangered lists. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, they have increased their range from four to ten counties. Their population is now estimated at 20,000, covering about 30 percent of the peninsula, mostly in Maryland.
The Delmarva fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus) joins more than 30 other species that have been de-listed under the ESA after their populations recovered, including the bald eagle, American alligator and peregrine falcon. The Endangered Species Act, according to the FWS, has been so successful at conserving at-risk wildlife that it has prevented the loss of nearly every species that has been listed as endangered or threatened since 1973.
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.
Recovery efforts used a reintroduction program which focused on rehabilitating the population size and distribution of the species. More than 80 percent of the squirrel’s habitat is on private land, but it is capable of thriving on rural, working landscapes where agricultural fields mix with mature forests.
“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 in a statement. “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.”