Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brown Pelican Delisted

Yesterday, the Interior Department announced that Brown Pelicans have recovered and would no longer be protected as an endangered or threatened species. Its decline was caused by a combination of habitat loss and the widespread use of DDT. In the early years of the 20th century, it was hunted.
The brown pelican was first declared endangered in 1970 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, a precursor to the current Endangered Species Act. Since then, thanks to a ban on DDT and efforts by states, conservation organizations, private citizens and many other partners, the bird has recovered. There are now more than 650,000 brown pelicans found across Florida and the Gulf and Pacific Coasts, as well as in the Caribbean and Latin America.

The Fish and Wildlife Service removed the brown pelican population in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and northward along the Atlantic Coast states from the list of endangered species in 1985. Today’s action removes the remaining population from the list....

Past efforts to protect the brown pelican actually led to the birth of the National Wildlife Refuge System more than a century ago in central Florida. German immigrant Paul Kroegel, appalled by the indiscriminate slaughter of pelicans for their feathers, approached President Theodore Roosevelt. This led Roosevelt to create the first National Wildlife Refuge at Pelican Island in 1903, when Kroegel was named the first refuge manager. Today, the system has grown to 550 national wildlife refuges, many of which have played key roles in the recovery of the brown pelican.

With removal of the brown pelican from the list of threatened and endangered species, federal agencies will no longer be required to consult with the Service to ensure any action they authorize, fund, or carry out will not harm the species. However, additional federal laws, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Lacey Act, will continue to protect the brown pelican, its nests and its eggs.
It is encouraging to see endangered species recover and move off the endangered species list. There have been a few high-profile removals of recovered species over the past decade or so – peregrine falcon and bald eagle come to mind. However, there have also been a few in which delisting was premature. The travails of gray wolves since their delisting have been particularly saddening. I hope that the future of brown pelicans has more in common with peregrine falcons and bald eagles than gray wolves; luckily there is not a lobby for hunting pelicans. According to Audubon California, there is still some reason for concern, especially from the effects of oil and sewage spills on coastal habitats.

From a broader perspective, this delisting comes at a time when many species are still at risk. This week reported that (so far) the Obama administration is listing endangered species at an even slower pace than the Bush administration. This may be partly due to delays in getting officials confirmed by the Senate, and perhaps also the administrative foot-dragging during the last administration played a role in backing up the queue. However, these candidate species need to be listed soon so that they, like the brown pelican, have a chance at recovery.