MIAMI - The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing upgrading the status of wood storks because the birds no longer face an imminent threat of extinction.
The FWS wants to upgrade the birds status from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). They have been listed as endangered since 1984.
The FWS made the announcement Tuesday.
"The wood stork is the only true species of stork that nests in the United States," said Dan Ashe, director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "It's really a breath taking bird to see and it's recognizable across the nation as a sign of healthy wetlands."
Those healthy wetlands, including the recent restoration of the Everglades and other local conservation efforts, have helped save the species.
"We're still working on some of the wetland and the habitat issues that we need to deal with to protect this species further," said Cindy Dohnor, the Service's southeast regional director. "The wood stork is expanding its breeding range using a wide variety of wetlands to forage, roost, and breed, including man-made and restored wetlands."
In 1984, wood storks could only be found in South and Central Florida, which is why they were placed on the endangered species list.
In the late 1970s, there were only about 5,000 wood storks left. Today, there are three to four times that amount.
Most of the chicks will be found in nests in the Everglades, but the bird's breeding ground has doubled and now stretches into the southeast as far away as Mississippi.
The reclassification does not change any of the legal protection measures put in place, but it does bring the wood stork one step closer to a long-lasting population for the future.
"If the trends continue, the wood stork could soon reach its recovery targets and no longer require the protections of the endangered species act," said Ashe.
For the bird to be eligible for full delisting and no longer be classified as even threatened, officials must observe at least 10,000 nesting pairs (or 20,000 birds) for at least five years.
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