|Photo Credit: Larry Richardson, USFWS|
MERRITT ISLAND, Florida -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service down-listed the wood stork from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agency touted the change in status as reflecting a highly successful conservation and recovery effort spanning three decades.
“The down-listing of the wood stork from endangered to threatened demonstrates how the Endangered Species Act can be an effective tool to protect and recover imperiled wildlife from the brink of extinction, especially when we work in partnership with states, tribes, conservation groups, private landowners, and other stakeholders to restore vital habitat,” U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said last Thursday.
Twenty-seven species have been delisted under the ESA since 1973 due to recovery, including the bald eagle, American alligator, and peregrine falcon. Meanwhile, 30 species have been down-listed from endangered to threatened. Under the ESA, a species is considered endangered when it is at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. It is considered threatened when it is at risk of becoming endangered throughout all or a significant portion of its range.
When wood storks were listed as endangered in 1984, their population was dropping at 5 percent a year. Since then, the U.S. breeding population has shown substantial improvement in the numbers of nesting pairs as a whole and an expansion of its breeding range.
Since 2004, the three-year averages (2003 to 2012) for nesting pairs ranged from 7,086 to 10,147, all above the 6,000 three-year average identified in the 1997 recovery plan as the threshold to consider reclassifying the species to threatened status. However, the five-year average of 10,000 nesting pairs, identified in the current recovery plan as the threshold for delisting, has not yet been reached.
When the Service originally listed the U.S. breeding population, the wood stork’s range included Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. Breeding was primarily in Central and South Florida. Historically, the Florida Everglades and the Big Cypress ecosystems supported large breeding colonies. Since listing, its range has expanded north and west, and now includes portions of North Carolina and Mississippi, with significant nesting in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.