On Tuesday, December 18, 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposed upgrading the status of the wood stork (Mycteria americana) from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The proposed change is in response to improvements in the population and habitat of the species based on the best available scientific information.
Dan Ashe, Director for the Service, remarked that the proposed reclassification "demonstrates that the [ESA] works" and that "the species is making real progress toward recovery." The wood stork was originally listed (pdf) as endangered in 1984; since that time, the breeding population has substantially improved. Specifically, the average number of nesting pairs has increased from 7,086 to 8,996 over the last decade. While these nesting benchmarks are still below the five-year average of 10,000 needed for delisting, the population increase is encouraging. The wood stork’s breeding range has also expanded to twice its former size. The species used to breed primarily in central and southern Florida, but its current breeding range includes wetland areas in Georgia and South Carolina.
The proposed reclassification will not affect any protective or conservation measures in place for the species under the ESA. Rather, it recognizes the improvements in the wood stork’s population and is intended to encourage the continuation of collaborative conservation efforts, with the ultimate goal of delisting the species in the coming years.