EPW Hearing Statement: From Yellowstone’s Grizzly Bear to the Chesapeake’s Delmarva Fox Squirrel – Successful State Conservation, Recovery and Management of Wildlife

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held the hearing, “From Yellowstone’s Grizzly Bear to the Chesapeake’s Delmarva Fox Squirrel – Successful State Conservation, Recovery and Management of Wildlife.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am pleased to have this opportunity to highlight one of Delaware’s great Endangered Species Act success stories. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service considered the Delmarva fox squirrel endangered before the current Endangered Species Act was even enacted into law in 1973. Overhunting and habitat destruction were the leading causes of the squirrel’s decline. The Service didn’t develop the first recovery plan for the squirrel until 1979, and the plan required two sets of revisions – one in 1983 and the other in 1993.

“Over the course of decades, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked with Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to reintroduce and monitor experimental Delmarva fox squirrel populations. These populations grew and traveled onto private lands, creating some unexpected challenges for landowners.  It wasn’t easy, but the Service, the states, landowners and other stakeholder groups worked together to address these challenges, while advancing squirrel recovery.

“As a result of this collaborative conservation approach, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Delmarva fox squirrel from the Endangered Species List in 2015, nearly 50 years since the date of listing. The delisting was a shared success – among the states, the Service and all parties that participated in recovery actions. Notably, the delisting did not result in any litigation.

“I want to underscore the importance of the strong federal role in the recovery of the Delmarva fox squirrel. Without federal coordination across state lines, the squirrel may not have recovered. While state efforts have driven many species conservation success stories, the backstops and incentives provided by the federal Endangered Species Act are absolutely critical. I believe the Delmarva fox squirrel’s story is the rule for species recovery, not the exception. Most species become imperiled over the course of many years. In this case, the Delmarva fox squirrel population had likely been decreasing for a century. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that species recovery can take decades, too, as it did for the Delmarva fox squirrel.

“Lengthy recovery timelines do not mean that the Endangered Species Act isn’t working, as some of our colleagues may suggest. When the Endangered Species Act is adequately resourced, it actually works quite well. In addition to the Delmarva fox squirrel, the Endangered Species Act helped recover bald eagles and is currently helping recover red knot and Piping plover birds in Delaware. Birders come from near and far to observe these species, and when they do, they support our ecotourism industry.

“I also hear some of our colleagues raising concerns about litigation, especially litigation regarding delisting species. Sometimes disagreements between wildlife managers and stakeholders result in litigation, particularly around highly charismatic, nationally beloved predatory species. These disagreements are unfortunate, but judicial review remains a necessary part of the Endangered Species Act. As we will hear from one of our witnesses today, litigation can even forge stronger relationships between the states and federal agencies as they work to improve species conservation outcomes and overcome lawsuits.

“I recognize there may be difficulties associated with litigation, but litigation over delisting decisions is quite rare. In fact, environmental non-profits, which provide a voice for the public, have sued on only nine percent of all delistings. The courts have sided with these NGOs on just two species – grizzly bears and wolves. 

“Mr. Chairman, I realize that both of these species live in your great state, but I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that we are not talking about a systemic issue here. As such, I hope our committee will focus much of its efforts on addressing the severe funding constraints that are limiting both state and federal abilities to better conserve species. When states work collaboratively with federal agencies and diverse stakeholders, I believe our environment, our wildlife and our economy can prosper together. That’s certainly our experience in Delaware, and I hope the same is true in all of our states.

“Let me conclude by saying that I look forward to hearing testimony from each of our witnesses today and want to thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for bringing us together for what I believe will be a valuable conversation.”