If you've recently visited any of the national parks in Florida, or the national seashores on the Gulf Coast, or even Channel Islands National Park, Cape Lookout National Seashore, or Cape Hatteras National Seashore, you might wonder why all the fuss over the removal of the brown pelican from the Endangered Species List.
After all, this rather large, rather awkward looking bird with the huge bill is pretty ubiquitous at those units of the National Park System, as well as at Cape Cod National Seashore and even Assateague Island National Seashore. It wasn't always so, however. Just as DDT sent populations of peregrine falcon, eagles, and other birds plummeting in the 1960s and 1970s, it also impacted the brown pelican. But just this week the Interior Department has officially removed the brown pelican from ESA protection, saying the bird has made an incredible comeback from those days.
“At a time when so many species of wildlife are threatened, we once in a while have an opportunity to celebrate an amazing success story,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday. “Today is such a day. The brown pelican is back!”
The brown pelican was first declared endangered in 1970 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, a precursor to the current Endangered Species Act. Since then, according to Interior officials, a ban on DDT and efforts by states, conservation organizations, private citizens and many other partners has led the bird back from the brink. There are now more than 650,000 brown pelicans found across Florida and the Gulf and Pacific Coasts, as well as in the Caribbean and Latin America, the department said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service had removed the brown pelican population in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and northward along the Atlantic Coast states from the list of endangered species in 1985. This week’s action removes the remaining population from the list.
“After being hunted for its feathers, facing devastating effects from the pesticide DDT and suffering from widespread coastal habitat loss, the pelican has made a remarkable recovery,” Tom Strickland, assistant Interior secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, said at a press conference in New Orleans to announce the delisting. “We once again see healthy flocks of pelicans in the air over our shores.”
The pelican’s recovery is largely due to the federal ban on the general use of the pesticide DDT in 1972. This action was taken after former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Rachel Carson published Silent Spring and alerted the nation to the widespread dangers associated with unrestricted pesticide use.