Delaware’s Wildlife Action Plan

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Outdoor Delaware magazine and was reprinted with permission of Delaware Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Although it’s the second smallest of the 50 states, Delaware is home to an amazing diversity of wildlife and habitats stretching from the Atlantic Ocean coastline to the Piedmont border with Pennsylvania.

By Anthony Gonzon

There are more than 2,800 species.

These precious resources are part of our state’s unique and important natural heritage.

All Delawareans benefit from our diverse wildlife and their habitats, and many of us work to ensure that future generations can continue to hunt, fish, view or photograph wildlife, hike, bike and enjoy everything that Delaware’s great outdoors has to offer.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo Twice the size of the common gray squirrel, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel may grow to 30 inches — with half of that as the tail — and weigh up to 3 pounds. In 1967, it an endangered species; its current population is estimated at up to 20,000 squirrels, thanks to an action plan,

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo
Twice the size of the common gray squirrel, the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel may grow to 30 inches — with half of that as the tail — and weigh up to 3 pounds. In 1967, it an endangered species; its current population is estimated at up to 20,000 squirrels, thanks to an action plan,

In 2005, DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife enhanced its mission of conserving and protecting wildlife by developing the state’s first Wildlife Action Plan, making Delaware eligible for federal funding under the State Wildlife Grant program.

Since then, projects have included research on red knots, restoration of ancient sand ridge forest habitat,  Delmarva fox squirrel monitoring and Delaware’s second Breeding Bird Atlas, to name a few.

In October, the new plan for 2015–2025 was submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for approval. It was two years in the making and included a wide range of partnerships and public input. This latest revision is the blueprint that will help support the division’s efforts to conserve the state’s wildlife diversity and adapt to changing wildlife populations, habitats and threats.

The action plan is a crucial planning tool. In 1967, for example, the Delmarva fox squirrel became one of the first species listed as endangered under the new federal Endangered Species Act. By that time, the unique, silver-gray squirrels had disappeared from 90 percent of their former range.

Today, with substantial amounts of forest regrowth, hunting seasons closed and carefully planned translocations to establish new populations, the Delmarva fox squirrel’s range has increased from four to 10 counties. Its current population is estimated at up to 20,000 squirrels, covering 28 percent of the Delmarva Peninsula.

The action plan has helped support this comeback of the Delmarva fox squirrel. And this is just one notable example.

The new plan

Last year, the division revised and updated the Wildlife Action Plan with the most recent information on the status of our wildlife and habitat resources. The plan outlines a 10-year strategy for “Keeping Today’s Wildlife from Becoming Tomorrow’s Memory.” The new plan includes an assessment of Delaware’s current species of greatest concern and their key habitats, issues and research needs, conservation actions and how to better coordinate with conservation partners and foster public participation in wildlife conservation efforts.

The plan provides a blueprint for enabling today’s wildlife diversity to continue to thrive. The Division of Fish and Wildlife plays a lead role in the continued development, coordination and implementation. But there is much more to the action plan than that. It is intended to actively engage a broad range of stakeholders in wildlife conservation efforts.

Monitoring Delaware’s Species of Greatest Conservation Need and their key habitats, along with determining the effectiveness of conservation actions will provide important information for conservation agencies, organizations and partners. This information will enable them to determine the most effective ways to address issues facing Delaware’s fish and wildlife resources. The 2015 Wildlife Action Plan includes several new tools for information management and conservation planning, to track the implementation and effectives of conservation actions.

It all starts with a specific conservation action, which is then linked to relevant issues, habitats and species. Next, we look for indicators that can tell us if our actions are working. Indicators can range from an increase in the population of a rare species such as the Delmarva fox squirrel, to fewer cases of devastating wildlife diseases such as white-nose syndrome in some bat species, or more people voluntarily creating or protecting wildlife habitat on their lands.

Effective conservation actions then will be refined, resulting in new actions that could further aid the species of greatest conservation need and their key habitats. Looking to the future in 2025, we can look back and truly see what we have accomplished and what still needs to be done as the Wildlife Action Plan undergoes its next review and revision.

Delaware’s wildlife species and their habitats are facing many challenges. The intent of the action plan is to shine light on those challenges and to recommend important steps that can be taken to conserve wildlife in Delaware. The tools exist, the networks and partnerships are in place, and the conservation measures needed to protect Delaware’s wildlife have been identified and are within reach.

By itself, the Wildlife Action Plan cannot guarantee the future of wildlife in Delaware.  Elected officials, local governments, wildlife areas, parks and refuge managers, conservationists, business leaders, educators, landowners and concerned individuals all need to take important, necessary steps to ensure the future of our wildlife.

Future generations deserve to enjoy a crisp spring morning along the Nanticoke River. They deserve to hear frogs awakening from their winter slumber and see Delmarva fox squirrels, bald eagles, songbirds arriving from South America, skunk cabbage in bloom and beautiful budding trees.

These are the sights, sounds and experiences that many of us enjoy and that most of us take for granted. That we can secure the future for generations to come is not guaranteed. But the Wildlife Action Plan is designed to set a course in the right direction. It belongs to every Delawarean and will help the Division of Fish and Wildlife secure the future of all wildlife in the First State.

To review the action plan, visit www.fw.delaware.gov/dwap.

Anthony Gonzon is the Division of Fish & Wildlife’s biodiversity program manager.

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