Wood Stork is Recovering, Fish & Wildlife Says

     (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service claims the wood stork is recovering in the Southeast United States, and wants to downgrade its status from endangered to threatened.
     Fish & Wildlife claims the species is breeding in a larger range, and the number of nesting pairs is steadily increasing.
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     Fish & Wildlife claims that its finding that a 2009 petition to delist the stork, filed on behalf of the Florida Homebuilders Association, was warranted.
     The U.S. distinct population segment of the species, found only in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina when it was listed in 1984, has expanded to North Carolina and Mississippi, Fish & Wildlife says in its proposal.
     It claims that the downlisting target of 3-year population averages of 6,000 nesting pairs has been met since 2003, but the 5-year average number of 10,000 nesting pairs required for delisting has not.
     Nesting pairs plummeted to 2,700 to 5,700 pairs between 1977 and 1980, down from 15,000 to 20,000 pairs in the 1930s, and the birds still face continued loss, fragmentation and modification of wetland habitats, Fish & Wildlife said.
     But it says the storks have responded to threats by expanding their range, adjusting reproductive timing and using a variety of wetlands, including manmade wetlands, for foraging, roosting and breeding.
     The Center for Biological Diversity disagrees.
     “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,” Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement.
     But Fish & Wildlife claims the reclassification will not significantly change the protection for this species under the Endangered Species Act.
     The agency requests comments on the proposal and will provide one public hearing, if requested.
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