Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wood Storks Kicked Off The Endangered List

Photo courtesy of Daniel Prentice,
our beloved nephew/cousin.
 The girl in the photo has been made rather awkwardly anonymous
 because we don't know who she is.

Apparently, once a bird starts behaving like a seagull, it is no longer endangered. B and I spotted this wood stork in Lake Seminole Park, lurking near picnickers like an angelic buzzard, an elegant harpy. One little boy told me it stole his hamburger. (Though I think he might have been complicit.) Another girl, left alone at the picnic table, engaged in a staring match with the stork as it edged closer and closer. The bird was about as tall as she was. At last she bribed it with some lettuce, which it nosed through in a disappointed way before begging for better fare. It harassed the picnickers – in a very mild mannered, patient, lugubrious sort of way – for the whole hour I was at the park.

(A lecture about how very, very wrong it is to feed most wildlife will follow in some future blog.)

Despite their bald heads and necks (or maybe because of it – I'm very fond of vultures too) wood storks are beautiful birds. They are one of the species success stories I've been able to witness in my lifetime. When I was a little girl, wood storks were rare and wondrous things. I might see a couple every year. Now, in Pinellas County, I can see dozens in a day, wading in parks or soaring overhead on rising air currents.

By my own observations, they seem to have made a remarkable comeback. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently recommended that the wood stork be removed from the endangered species list. I wonder if this is a good idea, though. Because even though I've seen a lot of wood storks, not very many actually nest in Florida, particularly compared with the hundred thousand or so that used to nest here. Their colonies have rebounded in Georgia and the Carolinas, but here in Florida they just don't breed like they used to. If a species is expanding other places, but not breeding as well in its historic range, isn't there still a problem?

It probably doesn't matter in actual practice – the species is still considered threatened, and most regulations should still be in effect. Where it matters is in people's mindsets. They are endangered because their habitat is in danger, and we need that big, scary word – ENDANGERED – as a tool to help people remember how important it is to preserve wood storks and save wetlands.

Wetland restoration and species preservation have come a long way in the last several decades. And I know FWS must want the sense of victory that comes with declaring that a species is no longer endangered. It shows they are doing their job. But I think it is a little too soon to strip wood storks of their endangered status. Even if they are acting like seagulls.

You can voice your opinion at –!documentDetail;D=FWS-R4-ES-2012-0020-0001 through February 25, 2013.The site also has some of the data that led to the decision, as well as interesting information on wood storks in general.

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