When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Wood Stork as Endangered in 1984, a total of 6,245 nesting pairs were known in 29 colonies, 25 of which were in Florida. In 2013, 11,046 pairs nested in 100 colonies throughout Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The species also occurs in Alabama and Mississippi.
The rebound is sufficient enough that FWS is down-listing the bird to Threatened. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the news at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, home of the largest Wood Stork rookery in Georgia.
“Through important conservation partnerships,” Jewell said, “the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to rebuild a healthy wetland ecosystem, which, in turn, is helping restore the Wood Stork’s habitat, double its population since its original listing, and keep the bird moving in the right direction toward recovery.”
Dan Ashe, director of FWS, said the reclassification “does not diminish protection measures for the bird under the Endangered Species Act.” The agency will continue its Wood Stork recovery work with Ducks Unlimited and state conservation departments, he said.
Since 2004, the three-year average of the number of nesting pairs ranged from 7,086 to 10,147, above the 6,000-pair three-year average identified in the 1997 recovery plan as the threshold to consider reclassifying the species as Threatened. However, the threshold for delisting — a five-year average of 10,000 nesting pairs — has not yet been reached.
FWS says the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wetlands Reserve Program has played a critical role in Wood Stork recovery. The program has restored more than 200,000 acres of wetlands in Florida and more than 115,000 acres in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina.
“The growth and expansion of the Wood Stork population is great news, but substantial work remains to fully recover the species in south Florida,” said Jaclyn Lopez, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “These ecosystems are still under severe threat and making sure this iconic species always has a home there is essential before we declare the Wood Stork to be completely recovered.” — Matt Mendenhall, Managing Editor