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Delmarva Fox Squirrels Recovery: Large Gray Squirrels To Be Removed From Endangered Species List

Nov 16, 2015 01:15 PM EST
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Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel populations have made a successful recovery and will soon be delisted from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) Endangered Species List. The FWS decided the Delmarva fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus), a large gray forest squirrel, was ready to be removed from the list following a 2012 review of the species' abundance and distribution, which indicated that populations are sufficient enough to handle current and future threats, according to a news release.

"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," Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement. "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."

Delmarva fox squirrels represent some of the first animals to be listed as Endangered Species nearly half a century ago. The animals are considered the largest of all squirrels because they can grow up to 38 inches long, weigh up to three pounds, and they also have long fluffy tails that can grow upwards of 15 inches long. Delmarva fox squirrels are generally not found in urban areas and prefer woodland areas or suburbs of the Delmarva Peninsula, which occupies most of Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia.

The large forest squirrels first experienced a drastic population decline in the mid-20th century due to deforestation and over-hunting. During this time, the animals' range decreased by more than 90 percent, which earned the squirrels a spot on the Endangered Species List alongside 67 other species in 1967.

Since then, active conservation work and the support of Delmarva residents have increased the fox squirrel's range to 135,000 acres of forest across 10 counties, and boosted populations by about 20,000 individuals, according to FWS.

"Delaware biologists have worked hard to improve much-needed habitat that has helped the fox squirrel move from imminent risk of extinction to recovery," David Small, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Secretary, added. "While the species is still rare in Delaware with only two known populations, DNREC's Division of Fish and Wildlife will continue to advance its management and conservation plan aimed at making the species common enough in Delaware to be removed from the state's endangered species list as well."

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