Federal officials say that the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel population has recovered and is not at risk of extinction anymore. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is scheduled to remove the animal from the list of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act in December.
The squirrels were included in the list of endangered species in 1967 because only 10 percent of their population remained. Due to the conservation efforts made by the federal government consisting of recovery plans that aim to protect the squirrels' natural habitat, the Delmarva fox squirrels were able to increase in population to around 20,000 and their habitat now covers 28 percent of the Delmarva Peninsula, occupied by Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
"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," Michael Bean, principal deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks said in a press release.
The Delmarva fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus) is native to the eastern portion of the United States. It weighs approximately 3 pounds, has a full and fluffy tail and it can grow to around 15 inches long. They were once found in the Delmarva Peninsula and southeastern Pennsylvania. Today, the squirrels' habitat range includes most counties on the eastern shore of Maryland as well as some portions of Virginia and Delaware.
Their preferred habitat are areas of pinewood forests where there is an abundant supply of acorns, pine cones, and cavities for nests. In the 1900s, short-rotation timber harvests posed a great threat to the squirrels' natural habitat that significantly reduced their population. Over the past decades, their number greatly decreased, mainly caused by the clearing of land for agriculture or housing purposes.
The Delaware Delmarva Fox Squirrel Conservation Plan's main goal is to increase and sustain the population of these squirrels. The plan's specific tasks focus on monitoring the population of squirrels, determining and maintaining suitable habitat and translocating squirrels to better and new areas.
With signs of recovery, the sustainability of monitoring and restoring the Delmarva fox squirrel population will now be transferred to local governments.