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Recovery of Once Rare Wood Stork Is Latest Endangered Species Act Success

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The US Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it is proposing to remove the wood stork from the endangered species list as the bird has made a recovery.

In the 1970s there were only 5,000 breeding pairs left for wood storks, but now there are more than 11,000 pairs in Florida, Georgia and other states in the Southeast.

“There is no better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act than with the restoration of this magnificent bird,” said Stephanie Kurose, senior policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The law saved the wood stork and helped preserve and rebuild vital habitats throughout the Southeast. This has improved water quality and benefited countless other species that call the area home.”

Wood storks were protected in 1984 after the species declined from about 20,000 breeding pairs in the late 1930s to 5,000 pairs in the late 1970s. This decline was largely due to drainage and wetland development. After the species was listed as endangered, work to preserve and restore wetlands and protect nesting sites began.

Today, the wood stork’s range includes northern Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and the Carolinas. Several breeding colonies now exist where few or none used to exist in these areas.

However, the wood stork’s habitat in the Everglades remains threatened by poor water management practices that have severely altered the natural flooding and drying patterns of the ecosystem. When this cycle is disrupted by human-controlled activities, wood storks cannot successfully forage and nest.

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For example, a wood stork nest site has crashed at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, which was once the largest wood stork nursery in North America. The fate of the stork in South Florida underscores the need to protect and restore naturally functioning wetlands for the species that depend on them.

“The wood stork has made a remarkable comeback, but the destruction of wetlands from urban sprawl still dwarfs the species,” Kurose said. “The service must ensure that wetlands are protected. It is also critical to continue to adequately monitor the stork population to ensure ongoing threats do not undo this hard-won success.”

Today’s announcement reinforces what studies have already shown – that the Endangered Species Act has not only prevented the extinction of 99% of the plants and animals it protects, but has consistently helped those species recover.

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