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USFWS to reclassify Wood Storks from endangered to threatened

Fern Davies

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Fish and Wildlife Service Proposes Upgrading Wood Stork’s Status

Wood storks in the Southeastern United States no longer face imminent

danger of extinction


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to upgrade the status of

the U. S. breeding population of wood storks from Endangered to Threatened

under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The proposal follows a

comprehensive review, conducted by Service biologists, of the best

available scientific and commercial information about the species’ status.


“The proposed reclassification of the wood stork demonstrates that the

Endangered Species Act works,” said Dan Ashe, Director for the U.S. Fish

and Wildlife Service. “This is a good day for the wood stork, and a good

day for conservation. Thanks to great efforts from our conservation

partners, the species is making real progress toward recovery.”


The wood stork is the only true species of stork nesting in the United

States. Since its original ESA listing as endangered in 1984 the U.S.

breeding population has shown substantial improvement in the numbers of

nesting pairs as a whole and the expansion of its breeding range. The

three-year averages during the past 10 years (2001 – 2010) range from

7,086 to 8,996 nesting pairs, all above the 6,000 nesting pair benchmark

average established for reclassifying the species as Threatened, but well

below the five-year average of 10,000 nesting pairs needed for delisting.


“Although some habitat loss continues, current population data clearly

indicate that the wood stork is benefiting from the work of private

landowners and several strong partnership efforts,” said Cindy Dohner, the

Service’s Southeast Regional Director. “The wood stork is expanding its

breeding range using a wide variety of wetlands to forage, roost, and

breed, including man-made and restored wetlands.”


The proposed reclassification would not change any conservation or

protection measures for the wood stork under the ESA. Rather it would

recognize the stork’s ongoing recovery and the positive impact that

collaborative conservation efforts over the last two decades have had on

breeding populations. With a continuing trend, the species could become

suitable for de-listing from the ESA. Therefore, addressing the threats

associated with habitat loss, including the protection of natural wetlands

through partnerships and the focused management of public lands, remains a

conservation priority for the Service.


When the Service originally listed the Southeastern U.S. portion of the

population, the wood stork’s range included Florida, Georgia, South

Carolina, and Alabama and breeding was primarily in central and south

Florida. Historically the Florida Everglades and the Big Cypress National

Preserve once supported large breeding colonies. Today its range includes

portions of North Carolina and Mississippi with significant nesting in

Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Biologists believe man-made changes

in the Everglades and Big Cypress ecosystems have contributed to the

bird’s expanded breeding range.


The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Wetlands Reserve Program

has restored over 200,000 acres of wetlands in Florida and more than

115,000 acres in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina during the past 18

years. Thousands of acres of wetlands are also being protected on private

lands to assist in habitat and wildlife protection through restoration in

conjunction with establishing conservation easements. Wetland losses are

being avoided, minimized, and mitigated through project consultations and

the regulatory process.


“The wood stork has shown a fascinating ability to respond to changes in

hydrology by broadening its breeding range beyond central Florida, the

Everglades, and Big Cypress ecosystems,” said Dave Hankla, Field

Supervisor for the Service’s North Florida Ecological Services Office in

Jacksonville. “However, this does not reduce the importance restoration of

the stork’s historical breeding area has for recovery. Nor does it

diminish the significant role South Florida’s ecosystems play for wood

storks and other wildlife.”


Large-scale restoration projects such as the Comprehensive Everglades

Restoration Program (CERP), Kissimmee River Restoration Project, and St.

Johns River Headwaters Restoration Project are significant conservation

efforts that continue to greatly benefit wood stork recovery. Florida

nesting pairs totaled more than 5,000 in 2011. Here are some examples from

other states:


Alabama: Ongoing wetlands restoration projects, such as those

undertaken in several U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Wildlife

Refuges (Eufaula and Choctaw NWRs) and the State of Alabama's Wildlife

Management Areas (Demopolis WMA and Upper Delta WMA), are providing

excellent foraging habitat for post-breeding wood storks dispersing

following the nesting season.

Georgia: Through public and private partnerships with NRCS,

nearly 20,000 acres of key wetlands are restored and/or being managed for

the benefit of a wide variety of wildlife, including nesting wood storks.

In 2011, Georgia had 2,160 nesting pairs.

Mississippi: Along the eastern part of the state, wetlands

associated with federal lands (including the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee

National Wildlife Refuge, with its moist-soil waterfowl management, and

the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway) attract feeding wood storks, as well as

other long-legged wading birds and wildlife.

North Carolina: Wood storks were first observed nesting in North

Carolina in 2005, with the two known colonies occurring on private lands.

While the wood storks nest on private lands, the birds are routinely

observed foraging on a broad range of federal and state protected wetlands

throughout southeastern North Carolina. In 2011 the nesting survey found

96 nesting pairs bringing the State’s three-year average to 141 pairs.

South Carolina: Public and private partnerships, such as the

Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto (ACE) Basin Task Force protect and manage

coastal estuaries and are contributing to a growing number of wood stork

nesting colonies. In 2011, South Carolina’s three-year average was 2,031

nesting pairs.


The announcement, which will publish in the Federal Register in coming

days, also constitutes the Service’s 12-month warranted finding on a

petition to reclassify the wood stork which was submitted by the Pacific

Legal Foundation (PLF) and Biological Research Associates (BRA), on behalf

of the Florida Home Builders Association (FHBA).


To ensure its final decision reflects the best available information, the

Service is soliciting comments from the public, other concerned

governmental agencies, Tribal governments, the scientific community,

industry, and any other interested parties. Of particular interest is

information and comments concerning:


(1) The historical and current status and distribution of the wood

stork, its biology and ecology, and ongoing conservation measures for the

species and its habitat.

(2) Wood stork nesting colony location data (latitude/longitude in

decimal degrees to confirm or improve the Service’s location accuracy);

nest census counts and survey dates; years when a colony was active or

not; years and dates when a colony was abandoned (fully or partially); and

annual productivity rates (per total nest starts and per successful nests)

and average chicks per nest estimates from U.S. colonies.

(3) Current or planned activities within the geographic range of the

U.S. breeding population of the wood stork that may impact or benefit the

species, including any acquisition of large tracts of wetlands, wetland

restoration projects, planned developments, roads, or expansion of

agricultural or mining enterprises, especially those near nesting colonies

and surrounding suitable foraging habitats.


Anyone wishing to submit information regarding the wood stork throughout

its Southeast U.S. breeding range may do so via one of the following

methods once the rule has published:


Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. Follow the

instructions for submitting comments for Docket FWS-R4-ES-2011-0020.

U.S. mail or hand-delivery: Public Comments Processing, Attn:

FWS-R4-ES-2011-0020; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S.

Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 222; Arlington, VA



The Service will post all information received on

http://www.regulations.gov. This generally means that any personal

information provided also will be posted.


Comments and information must be received or postmarked on or before 60

days after the date of publication in the Federal Register.


Submissions merely stating support for or opposition to the proposed

action without providing supporting information, although noted, will not

be considered in making a determination. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the ESA

directs that determinations as to whether any species is a threatened or

endangered species must be made solely on the basis of the best scientific

and commercial data available.


For more information about the wood stork and this finding, please visit

the Service at http://www.fws.gov/northflorida.

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