DOVER – Following the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s announcement that the Delmarva fox squirrel will be removed from the federal Endangered Species listing Nov. 16 due to a recovered increasing regional population, DNREC’s Division of Fish & Wildlife today announced a conservation plan promoting the squirrel’s further recovery in Delaware.
“Although the Delmarva fox squirrel does not symbolize the nation like the bald eagle, this species is unique to the Delmarva Peninsula and serves as a symbol of the geographic region it calls home,” said DNREC Division of Fish & Wildlife Director David Saveikis. “Maintaining the Delmarva fox squirrel population is important to the people of Delaware and to our state’s ecological diversity.”
Larger and slower-moving than other squirrels such as the familiar gray squirrel, and not well-adapted to urban areas, Delmarva fox squirrels can be identified by their size, their silver-gray coats with white bellies, and smaller ears and fuller tails. The species inhabited forested areas of the Delmarva Peninsula, including Delaware, before experiencing a sharp decline in the mid-1900s primarily due to land-clearing activities including farming and short-rotation timber harvest that reduced its habitat. In 1967, the Delmarva fox squirrel became one of the first species listed as endangered under the new federal Endangered Species Preservation Act, having disappeared from 90 percent of its former range.
Today, with substantial forest regrowth, dedicated protection of the species and carefully planned translocations to establish new populations, the Delmarva fox squirrel’s range has increased from four to 10 counties covering 28 percent of the Delmarva Peninsula, with its current population estimated at up to 20,000 squirrels.
“Although the Delmarva fox squirrel’s status is secure on the federal level, it is still rare in Delaware, with only two known populations in the state, both in Sussex County – the Nanticoke Wildlife Area near Seaford and Prime Hook National Wildlife Area near Milton. Because of this, the species will remain on Delaware’s state endangered species list,” said Wildlife Biologist Holly Niederriter, Division of Fish & Wildlife. “Through our conservation plan, we are committed to furthering the recovery of this unique species by restoring its populations as part of our forested landscape for the future.”
The conservation plan’s overall goal is to increase species distribution and ensure population stability through translocations – moving squirrels to carefully selected, species-appropriate locations – and through continued protection of the species and non-regulatory management of occupied habitats, connecting forests and supporting landscapes.
With an initial focus on connecting current populations in Sussex County, the plan includes the following:
· Double the number of locations where Delmarva fox squirrels occur and increase occupied habitat by a minimum of 900 acres through translocations.
· Promote mature forests and riparian buffers connecting occupied habitat by actively managing public lands and working with private landowners to improve areas adjacent to occupied habitat.
· Update population estimates and occupied acres for existing populations and set up long-term population monitoring for existing and translocated populations.
· Encourage interested parties, from farmers and developers to conservation groups and individuals, to partner with the Division of Fish & Wildlife to help the squirrels thrive.
· Plan outreach, education and monitoring, including development of a reporting system to allow anyone who spots a Delmarva fox squirrel in or near existing or new sites to report their sightings.
For more information on the Delmarva Fox Squirrel Conservation Plan, click Delmarva Fox Squirrel plan.