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For Immediate Release, January 13, 2011

Contact: Bethany Cotton, (202) 591-5215

Habitat Protection Sought for Endangered Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity today formally petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to designate and protect “critical habitat” for the endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, which currently lives in small portions of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. 

Fox squirrels currently occupy just 10 percent of their historic range. Though the fox squirrel was among the first species listed under the Endangered Species Act’s precursor in 1967, it has no critical habitat protections and continues to face serious threats throughout its range. 

“Destruction of habitat for development and logging has long threatened the fox squirrel.  Now it faces the new menace of climate change, which will mean losing habitat to sea-level rise and saltwater intrusion,” said Bethany Cotton, an attorney with the Center and author of the petition. “The fox squirrel has very specific habitat needs, and only a small percentage of suitable habitat remains. It is essential those areas be protected to save the fox squirrel from extinction.”

Critical habitat is defined in the Endangered Species Act as the areas necessary for the recovery of an endangered species. Research shows that animals and plants with designated critical habitat are on average twice as likely to be recovering as those without. Once an area is designated as critical habitat, federal agencies must ensure that their actions do not damage or destroy those areas.

“Designating critical habitat for the imperiled fox squirrel will help ensure the survival and recovery of this rare species. The Obama administration should work quickly to protect the habitat of one of the few endangered species living within a two-hour drive of the halls of power in Washington, D.C.,” said Cotton.

The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel is a large, heavy-bodied tree squirrel with an unusually full, fluffy tail. The fox squirrel is frosty silver to slate gray with a white belly and can grow to be 30 inches long with 15 inches of tail. Historically, it occurred in southeastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, south-central New Jersey, Maryland and the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. By the turn of the century, the squirrel had disappeared from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and by 1936 it had vanished from Delaware as well. Today the fox squirrel survives only in portions of eight Maryland counties and a single Delaware county. A reintroduced population lives on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, an isolated island off the coast of Virginia. Delmarva fox squirrels require mature, park-like forests of both hardwood and pine trees, with little undergrowth. Projected sea-level rise could inundate half of occupied fox squirrel habitat by the turn of the century.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 315,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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