WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. breeding population of the wood stork may be threatened instead of endangered under the Endangered Species Act, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service response to a request by Florida homebuilders to downgrade the status.
The agency announced that the petition to reclassify the bird provides substantial evidence that changing the status of the species may be warranted.
The Pacific Legal Foundation filed the petition on behalf of the Florida Homebuilders, a group that would have an easier time getting permits if the bird had fewer federal protections.
Association, requesting reclassification based on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2007 5-Year Status Review. The review lists the species status as “improving”, and notes that the “nesting population has been consistently above the 6,000 reclassification threshold for nesting pairs,” and that “the averages have ranged from 7,400 to over 8,700.” The review lists the number of nesting pairs for 2006 at 11,000. The population was at it’s highest in the 1930’s, at 20,000, and at its lowest in the 1970’s, at 5,000, according to the review.
“Even though threats that affect wood storks appear to be continuing at the same levels, the conclusion is that the overall population status is improving,” according to the review.
The generally accepted explanation for the decline of the wood stork is the reduction in food (primarily small fish) necessary to support breeding colonies. The reduction is attributed to loss of wetlands, and water changes caused by such things as draining wetlands, and constructing levees, canals and floodgates.
As nesting habitat (primarily cypress swamps) shrinks in central Florida, the storks have moved to non-native trees and man-made water holding areas, such as reservoirs. The birds also are moving north, as southern habitat decreases.
For the agency’s year long status review of the wood stork, it requests scientific and commercial data on the species.