A conservation group in Maryland's Queen Anne's County and a national wildlife organization are threatening to sue the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, saying it has failed to protect the habitat of the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel.

As required by law, the groups recently filed notification of their intent to sue in U.S. District Court, officials with the Queen Anne's Conservation Association and the national Defenders of Wildlife said. "We're hoping it won't get to that stage [of a court battle]," said Mike Senatore, a lawyer with Defenders of Wildlife in Washington. "We're just trying to get the Service's attention."

Since 1967, the Delmarva fox squirrel has been listed among the nation's endangered species. An unusually large squirrel, averaging almost 3 pounds, it was once found across the Delmarva peninsula from Delaware to the Virginia Eastern Shore but now lives only in four Maryland counties - Queen Anne's, Dorchester, Kent and Talbot.

According to Senatore and Queen Anne's Conservation Association Pres-ident Ned Gerber, the wildlife service has failed to adequately use its power to keep developers from destroying forests and farms where the squirrels live.

A spokesman for the Service said he could not comment on any issue where litigation has been threatened.

Although no firm count on how many Delmarva fox squirrels remain was available, Gerber said it is clear that the loss of forests and agricultural lands has resulted in the decline of the animal.

He also said that while the Service has pushed to have fox squirrels transplanted onto public lands and protected, "this recovery approach ... completely abandons any attempt to conserve fox squirrel habitat on private lands."

"[The Service] has repeatedly ignored our requests to develop a comprehensive conservation plan to address the continued piecemeal destruction [of the habitat]," Gerber said. "All we want is for the USF&WS to acknowledge the existing threats to the species' survival and recovery, and to work cooperatively with us."

Senatore said development can hurt the Delmarva fox squirrel by destroying its home when forests are cleared or by ruining its sources of food when farmland becomes housing units. Then there are threats from domestic pets and automobiles.

Specifically, he and Gerber said they just want developers to put in woodland or farm buffers to help sustain the species.