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Half a Century Later, Delisting Marks Success

WASHINGTON (CN) - The once endangered Delmarva fox squirrel has recovered, and its delisting under the Endangered Species Act marks a conservation success, the Fish and Wildlife Service says.

The Department of Interior announced the Fish and Wildlife Service action to delist the large squirrels Friday. The action, to be published Monday, will mark the end of nearly fifty years of federal conservation efforts on the squirrel's behalf. The department's announcement touted the service's partnerships with states and landowners as being instrumental in the recovery.

"The fox squirrel's return to this area, rich with farmland and forest, marks not only a major win for conservationists and landowners, but also represents the latest in a string of success stories that demonstrate the Endangered Species Act's effectiveness," Interior's Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Michael Bean said. "The Act provides flexibility and incentives to build partnerships with states and private landowners to help recover species while supporting local economic activity. I applaud the states of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, and the many partners who came together over the years to make this day possible."

The squirrel was one of 78 species listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967. The Endangered Species Act succeeded that act six years later. The squirrel's historic range on the Delmarva Peninsula in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia was reduced by over 90 percent due to forest clearing for agriculture, development and timber harvesting in the mid-1900s. Over-hunting also contributed to the squirrel's sharp decline.

Delmarva fox squirrels, weighing up to three pounds and 30 inches long including tail, are much bigger than the gray squirrels they resemble, which rarely grow longer than 20 inches. The Delmarva squirrels have increased their population to an estimated 20,000 individuals, and their current range covers 28 percent of the peninsula, more than 80 percent of which is on private land.

"The federal delisting of the Delmarva fox squirrel as an endangered species is an exciting milestone in the progress of wildlife conservation in Delaware and throughout the region," Deputy Secretary Kara Coats of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said. "Although this unique species is secure on the federal level, it is still rare in Delaware. Through our Delmarva Fox Squirrel Conservation Plan, we have a path forward to further enhancing and restoring Delaware's population of Delmarva fox squirrels as part of our state's ecological diversity and landscape."

The ESA does not require that a species be restored to its entire historic range to be considered recovered. States will now provide leadership for the continuing recovery of the squirrels, the agency said. The squirrel is considered to be "state endangered" in Delaware and Virginia, and in Maryland the squirrel will be reclassified as a "species in need of conservation," according to the agency's fact sheet. The service's "post-delisting monitoring plan" will track the squirrel's progress.

The Delmarva squirrel joins more than 30 species that have been delisted due to recovery, including the bald eagle, American alligator and the peregrine falcon, according to the department's announcement.

The final delisting rule is effective 30 days after publication.

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