On Tuesday, February 14, the U.S. 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 faced extinction when listed in 1984 under the Endangered Species Act. The population decreased from 20,000 nesting pairs in the late 1930s to fewer than 5,000 pairs in the 1970s, primarily nesting in south Florida’s Everglades and Big Cypress ecosystems. Today, the Wood Stork breeding population has doubled to 10,000 or more nesting pairs and increased its range, including the coastal plains of Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The long-legged wading birds more than tripled their number of nesting colonies from 29 to 99 in their expanded range. They’ve adapted to new nesting areas, moving north into coastal salt marshes; old, flooded rice fields; floodplain forest wetlands; and human-created wetlands.
If the stork is delisted, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Clean Water Act, and state environmental regulations will continue to protect the species and the wetland habitats it depends upon. The ESA requires FWS to implement a post-delisting monitoring plan for a minimum of five years to ensure the species remains stable.
“The Wood Stork is recovering as a result of protecting its habitat at a large scale,” said Shannon Estenoz, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. “This iconic species has rebounded because dedicated partners in the Southeast have worked tirelessly to restore ecosystems, such as the Everglades, that support it.”
“There’s no better way to celebrate the Endangered Species Act’s 50th anniversary than with the recovery of this magnificent bird,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). “The act saved the Wood Stork, and it helped preserve and rebuild vital habitats throughout the Southeast. That has improved water quality and benefited countless other species who call the area home.”
Kurose warns that “wetland destruction from urban sprawl still looms large over the species.” A CBD press release notes that nesting of Wood Storks has crashed in 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 says. “It’s also crucial to continue to adequately monitor the stork’s population to make sure ongoing threats don’t undo this hard-fought success.”
Study: Endangered Species Act is working as intended
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