Delmarva Fox Squirrel No Longer Endangered Species

BERLIN — Once a thriving fixture on the Lower Shore landscape, the Delmarva fox squirrel had seen its population dwindle to nearly 10 percent of its historic level in recent years, but thanks to a concerted multi-agency, multi-level effort, the famed Easter Shore resident is now ready to come off of the endangered species list.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last month announced due to a concerted conservation effort by landowners and other public and private partners, the department is now considering removing the Delaware fox squirrel from the endangered species list. Once prevalent across the entire peninsula including much of rural Worcester County and the Lower Shore, the Delaware fox squirrel had seen its population decline steeply over the last few decades due to a variety of man-made and natural factors including the cutting of timber in its natural habitat and hunting pressures.

When its numbers declined by around 90 percent, it was one of the first species ever added to the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) list. While it roamed freely in state and national parks and wildlife refuges, a large percentage of its population lived on private land, which created challenges for conservations hoping to save the endangered species.

“The Delmarva fox squirrel is a perfect example of how the Endangered Species Act works not only to pull plants and animals back from the brink of extinction, but can also provide flexibility to states and private landowners to help with recovery efforts while at the same time supporting important economic activity,” she said. “This success story is the result of a partnership with several state wildlife agencies, conservation groups, landowners and countless other stakeholders working hand in hand with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists to protect the Delmarva fox squirrel. This is a model for how the act is designed to work.”

Larger than most squirrel species, the adult Delmarva fox squirrel grows to a length of up to 30 inches. It generally isn’t found in urban or even suburban areas, but instead typically lives in dense, forested areas. With much of the Eastern Shore and the Delmarva peninsula becoming more developed in recent decades along with the clearing of densely forested areas for agriculture, its habitat shrunk over the years and its population shrunk in kind.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said this week the restoration effort was long and carried largely on the backs of private landowners.

“Today’s announcement shows that through dedication, hard work and successful partnerships, we can accomplish great things,” he said. “Not only did federal and state agencies join forces, the citizens of Maryland and Delaware were also paramount to the recovery of the Delmarva fox squirrel, providing habitat for the endangered species on their own private land.”

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin said the Delmarva fox squirrel success story demonstrates both goals can be attained simultaneously.

“This not-so-little squirrel is emblematic of the big things possible when we work together to realize our commitments to restoring the health of the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem for fish, wildlife and people too,” he said. “A combination of coordinated conservation efforts among our farmers, private foresters, public land managers and field biologists made this effort a success. When we replicate this process of partnership and coordinate conservation action over and over again, our communities across the watershed will benefit tremendously.”