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Brown Pelican Removed From Endangered List

November 12, 2009

After a forty year fight to save the brown pelican from extinction, the resilient creature appears to have had a significant comeback.

On Wednesday, Interior Department officials announced that they were officially delisting the bird as an endangered species, reported the Associated Press.

Now common in Florida, the Gulf and Pacific coasts and the Caribbean, the bird was initially declared an endangered species in 1970, after its population was wiped out by the use of the pesticide DDT. The pelicans would consume the chemical through tainted fish, causing them to produce eggs with shells so thin they broke before hatching.

In 1972, DDT was banned, which greatly helped the pelican’s recovery, along with efforts by states and conservation groups to protect its nesting sites and closely watch its population, Interior Department officials said.

“Today we can say the brown pelican is back,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a conference call with reporters in Washington. “Once again, we see healthy flocks of these graceful birds flying over our shores. The brown pelican is endangered no longer.”

The official announcement came earlier at a press conference at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, which is dubbed the “Pelican State.” The bird has been on the state’s official seal since 1804, but the pelican had virtually disappeared from its coasts in the 1960s.

“It’s been a long journey,” said Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, parks for the Interior Department. “It’s tracked my whole adult life.”

While Strickland agreed that the bird’s coastal habitat was at risk from rising seas and erosion, he still insists that wildlife officials were confident the bird was ready to be taken off the list.

The brown pelican’s impending demise has coincided with the development and birth of the nation’s environmental policy and the environmental movement. It was listed as endangered before Congress even passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973. And its fight to survive, originally from being hunted for feathers to decorate hats, led to the creation of the National Wildlife Refuge System over 100 years ago, when President Theodore Roosevelt developed the first sanctuary at Pelican Island in Florida.

Now, the bird can be found thriving along the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, California, Washington and Oregon, and its global population, including the Caribbean and Latin America, is estimated at 650,000. They are known for their dramatic head-first diving into the water only to surface with a mouthful of fish.

In 1985, the Fish and Wildlife Service eliminated brown pelicans living in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and up the Atlantic Coast from the list, and in early 2008, the Bush administration proposed having the bird taken off the endangered species list as well.

There are some environmentalists who said on Wednesday that they want the populations in the Western Gulf and the Caribbean to remain on the list.

The concern along the Gulf Coast is that the population inhabits low-lying islands and coasts susceptible to hurricanes and the rising sea levels expected to come with global warming, while some question whether the population has been adequately monitored in the Caribbean.

“We remain very concerned with the long-term viability in the face of global warming and hurricanes,” said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We would prefer to see the federal government secure long-term agreements (along the Gulf) to ensure coastal nesting habitat is going to be restored and protected in perpetuity.”

Even though the brown pelican will be removed from the endangered species list, it will still be protected by other laws, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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