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Endangered species success stories touted off Southern California coast

Five species on San Clemente Island off the coast of Southern California have “fully recovered” thanks to the Endangered Species Act, which turns 50 this year.

(CN) — The San Clemente Island Bell’s sparrow made its way off the endangered species list along with four plants only found on the U.S. Navy-owned island in Southern California, thanks to population recovery.

San Clemente Bell’s sparrows — formerly known as the “SC sage sparrow” — are small, grayish-brown birds with distinct black streaks and white eye rings. The species was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1977, declining to 38 known individuals by 1984.

A celebratory announcement came from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday highlighting its collaboration with the U.S. Navy over the last 40 years to preserve the five species under the Endangered Species Act — a law that turns 50 this year.

“This is an incredible comeback story for five of California’s unique Channel Island species that fought so hard to survive for decades,” said Stephanie Kurose, a senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, we can celebrate their recovery along with the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s most successful conservation laws.”

San Clemente Island is a 57-square-mile island owned and managed by the U.S. Navy about 60 miles off the coast of San Diego. The introduction of farm animals centuries before the Navy arrived and the more recent introduction of mule deer in 1962, the indigenous species on the island eventually declined.

With the removal of nonnative herbivores and protections through the Endangered Species Act, the island’s native species have slowly returned over the last few decades. The recovered plant species in Tuesday's announcement include the San Clemente Island paintbrush, lotus, larkspur and bush-mallow.

“The Navy is proud to have shared more than 40 years of collaboration with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to improve the habitat and recover these species,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Environment and Mission Readiness Karnig Ohannessian in a statement. “This announcement is a milestone in our efforts and should be celebrated. The Navy remains committed to our conservation efforts on San Clemente Island, and to be good stewards of the natural resources we manage as part of our national security mission.”

Fish and Wildlife’s final rule will be published in the Federal Register on Jan. 25.

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