The Delmarva fox squirrel, which has been endangered since 1967, is coming off the list.
The squirrel, which has slowly been reappearing in the forests and farmland along the Eastern Shore after an aggressive transfer program, has recovered enough for wildlife officials to declare it no longer endangered.
Officials gathered to make the announcement in September at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge outside of Cambridge, MD, where the squirrels maintain a large population.
In recent years, there have been anecdotal sightings of the squirrel in the Pocomoke area and around Cambridge. Federal officials credited the cooperation of many private landowners who allowed wildlife biologists to translocate squirrels from the wildlife refuge to their properties, facilitating the recovery.
Announcing the de-listing were Interior Secretary Sally Jewell as well as Gov. Martin O’Malley and Maryland U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.
“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,” Jewell said in a press release. “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.”
It’s rare for a species to be returned and restored; in Maryland and elsewhere, many species are heading in the other direction. While eagles came off the endangered list in 2007, to great fanfare, the Chesapeake Bay’s sturgeon joined the list last year. There has been a push to list the American eel, still seen here but all but gone from the Great Lakes.
Some other symbols of the Endangered Species Act’s success include the peregrine falcon and the American alligator.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that the squirrel’s range has increased from four to 10 counties, with 20,000 squirrels covering 28 percent of the Delmarva Peninsula. In addition to Blackwater, the squirrel can be seen at the wildlife refuges in Chincoteague, on the Virginia coast and at Prime Hook, in Delaware.
The squirrel prefers large, mature forests, where it stays low to the ground a lot of the time and sleeps long nights. It can grow up to 30 inches long and weigh up to 3 pounds. Its tail can reach 15 inches. It’s usually lighter than the gray squirrel.
Many of its prime Eastern Shore habitats were lost to logging and development. Efforts to return the squirrel to Delaware haven’t been as successful, and Delaware wildlife officials pledged to keep an eye on the populations there.