Delmarva Fox Squirrel De-Listed

The U.S. Department of the Interior today announced that due to concerted conservation efforts by states, landowners and others working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, one of the animals included on the first list of endangered species nearly a half century ago, is no longer at risk of extinction.

With more than 80 percent of the squirrel’s home on private land, the squirrel has thrived on the rural, working landscapes of the peninsula where mature forests mix with agricultural fields.  Since listing, the squirrel’s range has increased from four to 10 counties, and a population of up to 20,000 squirrels now covers 28 percent of the Delmarva Peninsula, primarily in Maryland.  Efforts contributing to recovery include translocation of animals to establish new populations, closing of the targeted hunting season, growth and dispersal of the population, and protection of large forested areas for habitat.  The Blackwater (Maryland), Chincoteague (Virginia) and Prime Hook (Delaware) national wildlife refuges provide unique opportunities to see this animal.

Source Article:  http://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ref=delmarva-fox-squirrel-leaps-off-endangered-species-list-&_ID=35298

Mark’s Comments:

I have performed several Delmarva Fox Squirrel (DFS) surveys, both trapping and photo-monitoring for the U.S. FWS, as we have had several Maryland eastern shore clients, whose land development projects could possibly compromise DFS habitat and/or known populations.  I have had federal scientific collection permits for the survey of DFS, and other species such as amphipods, bald eagle, swamp pink, small-whorled pogonia and sensitive vetch.  During the summer and early autumn of 2015, I performed the last formal DFS photo-monitoring survey for a client, prior to the de-listing, which was partially as follows:

Introduction

Environmental Systems Analysis, Inc. (ESA) was contracted by our client to conduct a photo-monitoring survey to determine the presence or absence of Delmarva Fox Squirrel (DFS).  The study tract consisted of an 80-acre riparian hardwood forest located along Maryland Route 404, in Cordova, Maryland.

Proposed improvements to and expansion of Maryland Route 404 at this locality has necessitated the study, as DFS are known to occur in the greater vicinity.  The Delmarva Peninsula Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus) is a federally endangered animal species, but through a September 23, 2014 Federal Register Citation (79 FR 56686 56704), is being proposed for de-listing from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife.  The Delmarva Fox Squirrel remains on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Natural Heritage Program list, as a highly state rare (S1) animal species.

The 80-acre study tract is a riparian hardwood forest, which includes a perennial stream and expansive areas of associated forested wetlands, all of which ultimately flow to Tuckahoe Creek to the east of the site.

The forested overstory along the outer/drier margins of the woodlot contains white oak, black cherry, black walnut, black oak, tulip poplar, mulberry and flowering dogwood.  The inner core of the riparian woodlands are dominated by swamp chestnut oak, sycamore, red maple, sweetgum, black gum, American holly and green ash.  Understory and shrub species include paw paw, spicebush, arrow-wood viburnum, highbush blueberry, sassafras and ironwood.  Vine species include multiflora rose, trumpet creeper, poison ivy, Virginia creeper, common greenbriar and Japanese honeysuckle.  The wetter portions of the tract contain lizard’s tail, skunk cabbage, false nettle and several other wetland forb species, including the uncommon golden club.

All of the 80-acre woodlot includes a 100-foot meadow set-back, which is part of a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), agricultural “best management practice.”  The adjacent agricultural fields alternate between corn and soy, through cyclical crop rotation.

Methods

Field work was performed in accordance with the Photo-Monitor Survey Protocol for Delmarva Fox Squirrel, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Annapolis, MD, February 28, 2011 and Placement of Cameras to Monitor Presence/Absence of DFS, Appendix D.

The forested study tract comprises 80-acres, which required 16 data stations, established at five-acre increments.  At each data station a Reconyx Hyperfire HC-500 semi-covert, digital, infrared, motion detector camera was installed and monitored for a 10-day period.  Each camera was installed to trees using a screwed-in, 16 gauge steel Reconyx Security Enclosure, secured by a Master Lock Python Cable Lock.  The stations were baited on the first, fourth and seventh day.

The cameras were installed on Thursday, September 17, 2015.  Installation included placing a station identification tag onto a tree, with each camera facing north to eliminate photo sun flare, then using a squirrel-sized Have-A-Heart Trap in a locked-open position, with whole kernel corn cob placed into the trap and loose corn kernel bait surrounding the trap and the base of the tagged anchor tree.  Each station was cleared of vegetation within the immediate view of the camera, so as to allow maximum view of animals visiting the bait stations.  Each camera was tested with a Cuddeback CuddeView X2 Picture Viewer to make sure that infrared motion detector cameras obtained the best possible diagnostic photos.

The first full day of monitoring began on Friday, September 18, 2015.  On day-4, Monday, September 21, 2015 all of the 16 station cameras were inspected, photo data downloaded, batteries checked and replaced as necessary, and the stations were re-baited.  This same effort of download and re-bait was performed on day-7, Thursday, September 24, 2015.  The 10-day photo-monitoring period ended on Sunday, September 27, 2015, and the camera take-down was performed on Monday, September 28, 2015.  We did not receive any hard, sustained rain during the 10-day monitoring period, so no additional survey days were needed.

Results

Camera           Photos             Species

Number           Taken              Observed

Camera #1      138                  gray squirrel, raccoon, deer

Camera #2      327                  gray squirrel, deer, opossum, rabbit, gray fox

Camera #3      87                    gray squirrel, deer, opossum

Camera #4      273                  gray squirrel, raccoon, deer, turkey

Camera #5      258                  gray squirrel, raccoon, opossum, turkey, ground hog, person

Camera #6      106                  gray squirrel, raccoon, person

Camera #7      51                    gray squirrel, opossum

Camera #8      75                    gray squirrel, raccoon, opossum, mouse, wood thrush

Camera #9      72                    gray squirrel, raccoon, deer, person

Camera #10    93                    gray squirrel, raccoon, opossum

Camera #11    171                  gray squirrel, raccoon, deer, opossum, mouse, gray fox

Camera #12    504                  gray squirrel, raccoon, deer, opossum, chipmunk, mouse

Camera #13    258                  gray squirrel, raccoon, opossum, mouse, domestic/feral cat

Camera #14    183                  gray squirrel, raccoon, deer, opossum, chipmunk, cardinal

Camera #15    339                  gray squirrel, raccoon, deer, opossum, chipmunk, rabbit

Camera #16    204                  gray squirrel, raccoon, deer, opossum, chipmunk, groundhog

Conclusions

All 16 camera locations documented gray squirrel, then with 13 of 16 stations having raccoons visiting the corn bait.  Twelve of 16 locations documented opossum and 10 of the 16 locations show deer visiting the camera stations (does, fawns, spike buck and four-point buck).

To a much lesser extent, we also observed chipmunk, rabbit, turkey, mice, gray fox, ground hog, domestic cat, wood thrush, cardinal and two hunters.  A total of 3,139 Reconyx photographs were taken through the 10-day photo-monitoring period.

The photo-monitoring survey did not document Delmarva Fox Squirrel within the 80-acre, farm tract, along Route 404, in Cordova, Talbot County, MD, with this report therefore being a Statement of Negative Finding.

It was expected that DFS would be found, as mapping provided by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (Cherry Keller, Annapolis Field Office) document the federally endangered species occurring immediately (directly abutting but separated by Route 404) to the east of the study tract, within the Tuckahoe Creek stream valley, and then approximately 3.6 miles to the west, on the west side of U.S. Route 50, in the Wye River watershed.

The deliverables for this project include a CD of every photo taken through the 10-day photo-monitoring period, so that interpretation can be performed by the U.S. FWS as they see fit, and an Excel spreadsheet of each camera stations latitude – longitude location and presence – absence of observed DFS.

Highlight Photos

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Domestic cat, possibly feral?

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Eastern turkey.

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Gray squirrel.

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Raccoon.

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Eastern whitetail deer.

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Mouse (foreground left, look for the glow of the eye).

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Eastern cottontail rabbit.

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Chipmunk (foreground left-center).

For persons reading this blog entry and not having a good feeling about what a Delmarva Fox Squirrel looks like, here are some photos from previous studies.

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First of all, for all of our photo-monitoring studies, we use the Reconynx Hyperfire HC-500 camera, which is the most preferred camera of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for this type of study.

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The camera methods are less invasive and more accurate than the older study protocols of using live trapping.  I remember well, one DFS survey on the eastern shore, where I had 88 traps out on one job!

We still use the traps, but they are locked open and help hold bait to get squirrels to stay longer for photographs.

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I borrowed two taxidermy squirrels from Glenn Therres of the MD DNR Natural Heritage Program to take photos, comparing a DFS on the left and a gray squirrel on the right . . .

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. . . and a second photo of the gray on the left and a Delmarva Fox on the right.  A DFS looks like a common gray squirrel on steroids!  It’s a least a third larger, much whiter in color and is more full-bodied, heavy-set, and with a more plump face and cheeks.

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Here in the field I have a gray on the left and a larger, white-colored Delmarva on the right.

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The same site, but a few seconds earlier.

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Here, a DFS takes the whole corn cob up the tree to feed from an elevated branch.

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I have 2,600 Reconyx photos of DFS from the Maryland eastern shore from various jobs.  The cameras have provided an excellent way to determine the presence or absence of this unique species.  I have been involved with several DFS mitigation plans, where I have negotiated the outright purchase of land, and deeds, trusts or covenants for perpetual forest protection, and reforestation of farm land related to compensatory squirrel mitigation for land development.

It’s great to see a federally endangered species become de-listed!

From a personal observation, I find DFS to be somewhat slow and less agile than the gray squirrel, but I will say this.  Every time I have let a DFS out of a cage, it ran to a hole in a tree to quickly disappear from site.  I believe that every DFS knows exactly where every possible tree cavity occurs within its home range, and will high-tail it to a safe haven when threatened.  I was quite surprised to see how small of an opening a DFS can fit in to.

 

 

 

 

 

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