Development of Delmarva Fox Squirrel Habitat Maps from LiDAR Data for Sussex County, Delaware

Project Status

The Delaware Geological Survey (DGS) is working with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Division of Fish & Wildlife to identify potential locations of suitable habitat for the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus).  Part of the Delaware Division of Fish & Wildlife’s conservation plan (2014) includes translocation of Delmarva fox squirrels (DFS) from Maryland to Delaware to increase Delaware population vitality.  Suitable DFS habitat is characterized as mature forest stands of mixed hardwood and pines with closed canopy and somewhat open understory.  Forest canopy height data from the NASA Carbon Monitoring System (CMS) project, derived from the 2014 statewide Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) acquisition, are used to identify potential DFS habitat in Sussex County, Delaware.  The use of LiDAR data allows widespread inventory of forest stand height and canopy closure, which can be used as a surrogate for forest maturity and allow identification of potential DFS habitat.  

Smooth, contiguous coverage area GIS layers and area statistics were produced for potentially suitable DFS habitat classes and the immediately surrounding areas.  The most suitable habitat classes (classes 1 and 3) were generally defined by: forest canopy height over 20 m and canopy closure greater than 80% for class 1, and forest canopy height 16.4 – 24.99 m and canopy closure 60 - 100% for class 3.   These two areas made up over 304 km2 (class 1) and 261 km2 (class 3) with within Sussex County.   Class 5 (canopy height 12.8 - 24.99 m and canopy closure greater than 30% not already classified as class 1 or 3) and class 7 (canopy height 6.6 - 12.79 m regardless of canopy closure percentage) were also mapped as part of the project.  The image below maps the spatial distribution of each class.

Delmarva Fox Squirrel potential habitat map based in LiDR analysis in Sussex County, DE

Delmarva Fox Squirrel potential habitat map based in LiDR analysis in Sussex County, DE.