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Audubon Questions Proposal to Downgrade Protected Status of Wood Storks

Steve Hillebrand
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes a downgrade in the protected status of the wood stork from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened.’  When the birds were first placed on the Endangered Species list in 1984, they were only known to nest in Florida , but federal wildlife officials say there are now as many as 9,000 nesting pairs in an extended range that now includes colonies as far north as the Carolinas. 

Some birding experts in Southwest Florida, though, say the wood stork’s northern expansion isn’t the whole story.  Manager of the National Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Collier County, Jason Lauritsen says the birds remain in peril.  “We’ve not had nesting in five of the last six years and as a result of that, our contribution in South Florida to the wood stork population has been abysmal,” said Lauritsen.  He says a loss of shallow wetland habitat is to blame for the birds’ lack of nesting in South Florida.

“When the wood storks come down here in the winter, this is where the vast majority of U.S. storks spend their winter,” said Lauritsen.  “Now if the nesting opportunity’s not there, there’s not enough quality places for them to forage, they’ll move north and historically they didn’t have to go to the north to nest because the Everglades system was such a rich and abundant place for them to feed.  Now that landscape has changed.”

Lauritsen will voice his concerns during a 60 day comment period on the proposal to downgrade the wood storks’ protected status.  If approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the new status will take effect sometime in 2013.