The Delmarva Fox Squirrel: A Local Endangered Species Success Story
Diane Larrimore, Ed.D.
CBEC, Maryland Master Naturalist Intern
Grayish white in color, with rounded ears and a fluffy tail that measures over 15 inches long, the Delmarva Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus) has become the leading character in a local conservation success story. The Delmarva Fox Squirrels’ (DFS) tale begins in 1967 when this large (30 inches from nose to tail) elusive squirrel was deemed on the brink of extinction.¹ However, due to timely conservation efforts provided by private citizens and local property owners working in tandem with federal and state wild life officials, the (DFS) became one of only a handful of indigenous threatened species to recently be removed from the Federal Endangered Species List.
Over a half century ago, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to catch a glimpse of the Delmarva Fox Squirrel (DFS) at CBEC or in any of the species other historical habitats spread throughout the rural Delmarva Peninsula region. Unrestricted hunting, predation, habitat loss, and destruction, led to this shy squirrel being considered at high risk for extinction (only 10% of its historical population remained, located in only a very few mature, dense forests on Maryland’s eastern shore).² Fortunately, based on successful lobbying efforts conducted by wildlife officials and concerned citizens, the (DFS) has become one of the first native species to receive federal protection under the 1967 Endangered Species Preservation Act.
Photo courtesy of John White
During the following 48 years strict conservation practices were established and aggressively administered in order to increase the dwindling (DFS) population. One example of a successful conservation effort was private landowners granting permission to state biologists for relocation of the (DFS) back onto long lost historical habitats (80% of original squirrel habitats are on privately owned lands; 20% on federal or state owned lands).³ Because of this practice, recent data suggests translocation of the (DFS) at eleven sites located on private lands has resulted in not only aggregate population numbers increasing to approximately 20,000, but also the species becoming firmly established and thriving in 28% of Delmarva mature forest regions.¹ Therefore, in 2015, based on conservation practices such as this and other promising statistics, the (DFS) was removed from the Federal Endangered Species List.²
During the past two springs, in compliance with the required five year federal post-delisting monitoring plan, wildlife experts, along with community volunteers have spread out throughout Delmarva’s mature loblolly pine and hardwood forests that contain an open understory, (the squirrel uses the understory to gather food sources that range from the nuts of trees to fruit, insects, and grain),4 in order to catch a glimpse of this quiet reclusive squirrel. Using a variety of field data collecting methods (i.e. trail cameras, field maps, documented personal experiences, etc.) wildlife officials have been able to track the (DFS) migration patterns and population centers.,5 Currently, results compiled from all data sources suggest that this large species of squirrel continues to successfully recover and re-expand into native historical lands (Although CBEC has a favorable (DFS) habitat, there is still no evidence that the squirrel has reestablished itself on CBEC property.)
The journey of the (DFS) from possible extinction has been fraught with many issues. However most have been solved due to the cooperative efforts that have taken place between federal, state and local communities. In the future, it is believed this effort must continue in order for the (DFS) to be considered a sustainable population and remain classified under the conservation status of “least concern” for extinction. For now, the Delmarva Fox Squirrels’ story has become a perfect example of how effective conservation and management efforts can play a critical role in the successful recovery of critically endangered indigenous plants and animals.
1 Chesapeake Bay Program, (2012). Delmarva fox squirrel. Retrieved March 15, 2017, from http://chesapeakebay.net/fieldguide/critter/delmarva_fox_squirrel.
2 Murray, M. (2014) Delawareonline. Delmarva fox squirrel is no longer endangered. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from http://delawareonline.com/story/news/2015/11/13//_fox_squirrels_no_longer_endangered/75728376.
3 Reshetiloff, K. and Keller, C. (2016). U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Program. Delmarva peninsula fox squirrel: journey to recovery. Retrieved March 16, 2017, from https://www.fws.gov/endangered/map/ESA_success_stories/MD/MD_story2/index.html.
4 Wikipedia (2017). Delmarva fox squirrel. Retrieved March 15, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delmarva_fox_squirrel.
5 Hendricks (M.), (2017) Earth Island Journal. Delmarva fox squirrel continues to do well a year after endangered species act delisting. Retrieved March 15, 2017, from http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/delmarva_fox_squirrel_recovery_endangered_species_act.