A Big Gray Squirrel Is a Big Conservation Success Story

The Obama administration declares the Delmarva fox squirrel safe from extinction.
This Delmarva fox squirrel was photographed by a camera trap—part of efforts to track and save the species from extinction. (Photo: DNREC, Division of Fish and Wildlife)
Nov 15, 2015· 0 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

One of the first animals ever to be protected under federal endangered species law is now making a happy exit from the list.

On Friday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that the Delmarva fox squirrel, a large gray forest squirrel, has been saved from extinction. It will officially be delisted in December.

While it resembles the small gray squirrels seen in many U.S. cities and suburbs, the Delmarva fox squirrel can grow up to 30 inches long and weigh up to three pounds. It prefers quiet woodlands to suburbs or urban parkland.

It was once found from southern New Jersey to southeastern Pennsylvania, but deforestation for agriculture and other development starting in the 1950s hit the species hard. By 1967, the year it was declared a federally protected species, the fox squirrel’s range had dwindled to four counties in Maryland.

Since then, active conservation work has increased the fox squirrel’s range to 135,000 acres of forest across 10 counties on the Delmarva Peninsula, and its population has increased to between 17,000 and 20,000 animals, according to FWS. More than 80 percent of the land in the squirrel’s current range is privately owned, according to the agency.

“This is a major conservation success story that is the result of strong partnerships and good stewardship of our land and wildlife,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., in a statement. “I am so proud of the peninsula’s landowners, conservation organizations, and state officials for their work to bring the Delmarva fox squirrel back from the brink of extinction.”