Southeast’s Endangered Wood Stork Recovered to “Threatened”

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. / December 19 — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed yesterday upgrading the legal status of wood storks from “endangered” to “threatened,” finding that the birds, which breed only in Florida, Georgia and coastal South Carolina, no longer face imminent extinction. The change in designation marks an important step toward full recovery but will not reduce the species’ legal protection.

Wood Stork, Mycteria americana

Wood Stork, Mycteria americana © USFWS

“The wood stork population’s steady improvement is proof positive that the Endangered Species Act works,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which recommended earlier this year that the wood stork’s status be changed from “endangered” to “threatened” because its population had grown dramatically since it was protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1984.

Wood storks were protected in 1984 after the species had declined from approximately 20,000 pairs in the late 1930s to 5,000 pairs in the late 1970s, largely due to draining and development of wetlands. After the species was designated as endangered, work began to preserve and restore wetlands and protect nesting areas. The official three-year average ranges from 7,086 pairs to 8,996. The most current estimate is 9,579 pairs.

“Despite the growth and expansion of the wood stork population, we continue to have grave concerns about the status of the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve colonies and expect the Service will continue important restoration to recover the species in its historic nesting grounds,” Lopez said.

The criteria and timeline for species recovery is established in recovery plans, essentially blueprints for species’ recovery. The wood stork recovery plan calls for downlisting to “threatened status” once the species reaches 6,000 nesting pairs, with evidence of strong, multiyear record of successful reproduction. The delisting criteria have not been met, but are expected to be achieved by 2017.

Earlier this year the Center published a report called “On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife.” The report documents the recovery of the wood stork and 109 other species that have seen substantial recovery because of the protections of the Endangered Species Act.

Source: Center for Biological Diversity (press release)