Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 19, 2014

Contact:  Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121

Endangered Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel Prematurely Declared Recovered

Despite Modest Population Gains, Sea-level Rise Will Swallow Half of Squirrel's Habitat

WASHINGTON— Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced today the recovery of the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, previously protected as an endangered species. The Interior Department made its finding based on an increase in distribution since 1967 from 4 to 10 counties where the squirrel can be found, and an overall population of 20,000. But despite these modest population gains, sea-level rise remains a severe threat to the species.

Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel
Photo courtesy Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. Photos are available for media use.

“No one should discount the heroic conservation work that has been done to keep this squirrel from going extinct,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But most of the places where the squirrel lives will eventually be underwater due to climate change and sea-level rise, and unfortunately most of the places on higher ground have already been lost to development.”

One of the strongholds for the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel is the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has declared to be a “refuge at risk.” Over the past 100 years, more than 8,000 acres of marshland have already been lost to sea-level rise, and each year another 150 acres are lost. These losses will only increase as the impacts of climate change accelerate. A 2012 analysis by the Center determined that over half of the squirrel’s currently occupied habitat will be lost as sea levels rise over the next 100 years.

“As with hundreds of other endangered species, there are some storm clouds on the horizon for the fox squirrel,” said Hartl. “The Endangered Species Act still remains the best hope for helping these species adapt to a changing climate — and hopefully find new homes uphill. Getting rid of the safeguards of the Act now is a dangerous and foolhardy move.”

The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel is a large, heavy-bodied tree squirrel with an unusually full, fluffy tail, and historically occurred in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia. But due to forests being logged or converted to farms, at the time of its listing as endangered in 1967, the squirrel occurred in only four eastern Maryland counties (Kent, Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Dorchester). Currently, the squirrel can be found in ten counties in Maryland and Delaware on the Delmarva Peninsula.

More information on the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel can be found here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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