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On Tuesday, February 14, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to remove the wood stork from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife. The bird is the only species of stork breeding in the United States.
The wood stork was threatened with extinction when it was listed in 1984 under the Endangered Species Act. The population declined from 20,000 breeding pairs in the late 1930s to less than 5,000 pairs in the 1970s, nesting primarily in the Everglades and Big Cypress ecosystems of South Florida. Today, the Wood Stork’s breeding population has doubled to 10,000 or more breeding pairs and has expanded its range, including the coastal plains of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Long-legged wading birds have more than tripled their number of nesting colonies from 29 to 99 in their expanded range. They adapted to new nesting areas, moving north into coastal salt marshes; old flooded rice fields; floodplain forest wetlands; and human-made wetlands.
If the stork is delisted, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Clean Water Act, and state environmental regulations will continue to protect the species and the wetland habitats on which it depends. The ESA requires the FWS to implement a post-radiation monitoring plan for at least five years to ensure the species remains stable.
“The wood stork is recovering thanks to large-scale habitat protection,” said Shannon Estenoz, assistant secretary of fisheries and wildlife and parks. “This iconic species has rebounded because dedicated partners in the Southeast have worked tirelessly to restore the ecosystems, such as the Everglades, that support it.”
“There’s no better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act than with the recovery of this magnificent bird,” said Stephanie Kurose, senior policy specialist at the Center for Diversity. biological (CBD). “This law has saved the wood stork and helped preserve and rebuild vital habitats throughout the Southeast. It has improved water quality and benefited countless other species that inhabit the region.
Kurose warns that “wetland destruction due to urban sprawl still looms over the species.” A CBD press release notes that nesting wood storks crashed into the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which was once the largest wood stork nursery in North America.
“The Service needs to ensure that wetlands will be protected,” Kurose said. “It is also crucial to continue to adequately monitor the stork population to ensure that continuing threats do not undo this hard-earned success.”
Study: The Endangered Species Act is working as intended