Nuts to you! Squirrel gets off endangered species list

Story highlights

  • The Interior Department is delisting the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel as endangered
  • The squirrel was on the original endangered species list in 1967

(CNN)Forget about gathering nuts. A rare species of squirrel has gathered new life.

The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel, one of the animals on the original endangered species list, is now no longer at risk of extinction, says the U.S. Department of the Interior.
    "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 official Michael Bean said from Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Milton, Delaware, according to a Department of the Interior statement.
    The squirrel -- native to Delaware and coastal Maryland and Virginia (DelMarVa, get it?) -- will be officially removed from the list in December.
    The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel was one of 78 species listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1967, the first year the list appeared. It continued on the successor list of Threatened and Endangered Wildlife under the Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973.
    It's one of 30 species to have been delisted, according to the Interior Department. Others include the peregrine falcon, the American alligator and the national bird of the United States, the bald eagle.
    Not all species make it, despite being listed. The Santa Barbara song sparrow was noted as extinct in 1983 despite 10 years on the list. Also considered extinct are the longjaw cisco, a fish once found in the Great Lakes; the Mariana mallard, a duck native to the Mariana Islands; and the Caribbean monk seal, a once-common Gulf of Mexico seal -- Columbus recorded their existence in 1494 -- that was delisted in 2008 after an exhaustive search.
    The Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel also had a difficult climb back to its current population. Larger than your average suburban nut-hoarder, it was widely found in the rural areas of the Delmarva Peninsula, a landmass between the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
    But decades of development and overhunting, starting in the 1950s, limited the fox squirrel's habitat and threatened its existence.
    However, "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," the Interior Department's statement observed. (No word on whether Atlanta's Inman Park Squirrel Census contributed to the counting.)
    Still, just because the squirrel is no longer endangered, don't expect to head out immediately and start grabbing a few for dinner. According to a fact sheet, "Deliberate killing of any animal is permissible only during an open hunting season defined under state law in Maryland, Delaware and Virginia." Those states haven't decided on any details.
    Not bad, Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel. You're out of the woods -- that is, if you wanted to leave.