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Florida's Endangered Wood Stork Recovering

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Florida's Endangered Wood Stork Recovering

From Center for Biological Diversity
January 2012

Tucson, Arizona — The Center for Biological Diversity said today that the wood stork should be downlisted from “endangered” to “threatened” because its population has grown dramatically since it was protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The change will not reduce the species’ legal protections, but is an important step toward full recovery and removal from the Act’s oversight.

“The beautiful wood stork is just one of hundreds of species the Endangered Species Act has successfully put on the road to recovery,” said the Center’s Marty Bergoffen. “From the brink of extinction, the wood stork multiplied to 12,000 nesting pairs in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.”

The criteria and timeline for recovery of endangered species is established by federal recovery plans. The 1997 wood stork plan calls for downlisting to “threatened” status when the species reaches 6,000 nesting pairs, with a strong, multiyear record of successful reproduction. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists declared this criterion had been met in 2007 and recommended downlisting. In 2009, the agency developed a “Wood Stork Recovery Action Plan” designed to speed downlisting, and in 2010 formally initiated the downlisting process with a positive initial finding on a citizen downlisting petition.

The wood stork declined from some 20,000 pairs in the late 1930s to just 5,000 in the late 1970s because of draining and development of wetlands; it was declared an endangered species in 1984. Wetland preservation and restoration, protection of nesting areas, and management of water flows began with the approval of the stork’s first recovery plan in 1986. That plan was revised in 1997 and augmented with a South Florida recovery strategy in 1999 and a recovery action plan in 2009. As a result, the population grew to 12,000 pairs by 2009.

“The wood stork’s success story shows how misguided critics are who complain that the Endangered Species Act is failing because only 1 percent of species have fully recovered,” said Bergoffen.

The wood stork’s 1997 federal recovery plan — which states that delisting should be achieved 33 years after the species was listed (2017) — is actually a rapid plan. Others stipulate much longer recovery periods, including the plans for the Mount Graham red squirrel (306 years), smalltooth sawfish (103 years) and red-cockaded woodpecker (105 years). The average time horizon of federal recovery plans is 42 years, which is twice as long as the 21-year average period for which species have been protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“The vast majority of endangered species are not supposed to have recovered yet. You can’t restore a species overnight. The recovery timelines are set by federal recovery plans, and most endangered animals and plants are on target to reach downlisting and delisting criteria on time,” Bergoffen said. “Calling the Endangered Species Act a failure because species are not recovering faster than their official recovery plans intend is like declaring a 10-day course of antibiotics a failure when it doesn’t cure the infection on the first day.”

A recent study of all threatened and endangered species in northeast states found that 93 percent were on a recovery trend and 83 percent were recovering at the rate established by their recovery plans.