The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says the species has sufficiently recovered from the impact of DDT contamination compounded by continuing habitat loss to be taken off the list in areas where it is not already delisted. Populations along the Atlantic Coast, in Florida and Alabama were delisted in 1985.
"The delisting of this iconic Gulf of Mexico species shows that cooperation produces results," said Mary E. Kelly, senior counsel of the Environmental Defense Fund's Center for Rivers and Deltas. "Now, we need to ensure that same spirit of cooperation and results extends to restoration of coastal Louisiana's wetlands, which, among many other benefits, provide habitat and food for this beautiful bird."
"This is an Endangered Species Act victory that demonstrates the great success we can achieve when we work together," echoes NWF's John Kostyack. "Maintaining that success will require confronting climate change and its relationship to coastal restoration and the species that depend on these important ecosystems."
According to Audubon's annual Christmas Bird Count, Brown Pelican population trends have risen in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and California for the past 40-50 years. Hurricane Katrina took a toll on the Gulf Coast populations that has not been thoroughly erased, but the prospects remain good, provided coastal recovery stays on track.
"The future of the Brown Pelican depends on the same strategies that will benefit coastal residents," said Audubon's Louisiana Bird Conservation Director Melanie Driscoll. "Pelicans and people need a strong, well-funded coastal restoration plan that will speed the recovery of coastal marshes and the barrier islands that are our first defense from hurricanes and their primary source of food and shelter."
Continued monitoring of Brown Pelicans is essential to detect any unexpected future population declines. Conservationists also caution that proper site selection, operational guidelines and vigilance will be needed to ensure that proposed wind power projects don't threaten recovery in Texas and other areas.
For example, officials at Audubon California stated that continued threats to the birds habitat will require continued conservation if the Brown Pelican is going to fully return to its former glory. "Obviously, the dramatic return of the Brown Pelican over the last few decades is a tremendous victory for the Endangered Species Act," said Graham Chisholm, executive director of Audubon California. "But given the threats that still exist, it is important that the Department of Interior and others continue their efforts to protect this important species."
The Brown Pelican was first declared endangered in 1970 under the Endangered Species Conservation Act, the precursor to the current Endangered Species Act. At that time, pollutants such as DDT had driven the species to near extinction. Brown Pelicans along the Atlantic Coast and in the South were removed from the list in 1985.
It is estimated that there the global population of Brown Pelicans has reached about 620,000. Of these, about 172,000 live along the California and Mexico coast. This latest move by the Department of the Interior removes all Endangered Species Act protections for the bird.
Although the Brown Pelican population has increased substantially, much of its breeding grounds face near constant threat from human activity, particularly pollution risks such as oil and sewage spills. Moreover, the Brown Pelican needs fish to survive, which links the species to the continued health of marine fisheries.
"For many Californians, our magnificent coastline is part of our natural identity, and the Brown Pelican is a treasured part of that image," added Chisholm. "That is all the more reason why we need to remain diligent about protecting this bird from the many threats that it still faces."
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