The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel is part of the list's old guard: The squirrel was one of 78 species listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967. At that time, the species -- larger than most squirrels and generally not found in suburban or urban environments -- had a habitat range reduced some 90 percent by forest clearing and development.
Since then, efforts to rebuild the squirrel's population have been quite successful. In addition to a ban on hunting the animals, the FWS used strategic relocation -- taking squirrels from successful areas and transferring them to new outposts -- to rebuild the population. Now the species boasts around 20,000 individuals throughout Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. They're now spread out over 135,000 acres of forest in the area, compared to just 32,000 in 1990.
Conservationists say that private landowners provided invaluable support. Most of the areas that remain forested enough to house these squirrels are privately owned, and many citizens had to cooperate for these squirrel relocations to stick. Now that a five-year review has proven the species to be truly robust, efforts to rebuild the population can give way to more passive maintenance.
“The natural world is amazingly resilient, especially when a broad collection of partners works together to help it,” Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), a senior member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is a major victory for the Endangered Species Act and the Delmarva fox squirrel itself, and much credit is due to the federal biologists who have worked for decades to rebuild the squirrel’s populations. But we could not have reached this point without the many citizen-conservationists who changed the way they managed their forest lands to make this victory possible, and I am deeply appreciative of their efforts."
So what happens to the squirrel now? Even though it's not endangered, you can't just walk outside and shoot a few for dinner (sorry). The individual states will resume responsibility for the animal's well-being -- which means they can open regulated hunting seasons for the species, under their own discretion. None of the three states currently have plans to do so. According to the FWS, Virginia and Delaware will continue to treat the squirrel as endangered at the state level, while Maryland may reclassify it as a “Species in Need of Conservation." Delaware may continue to try to boost the population without help from the federal government.
It's just a squirrel, and we've got plenty of other species of squirrel to drop acorns on us and drive our dogs crazy. But every endangered species success story is a great one. The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel is a reminder that sometimes, if we really try, we can undo just a little bit of the harm we've done to the planet.