WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The brown pelican, listed as an endangered species even before the 1973 U.S. Endangered Species Act existed, is officially back from the brink of extinction, the Interior Department said on Wednesday.
There are now more than 650,000 brown pelicans in Florida, the U.S. Gulf states and along the Pacific coast, as well as in the Caribbean and Latin America, up from as few as 10,000, Interior officials said.
“It has taken 36 years, the banning of (pesticide) DDT and a lot of work ... but today we can say that the brown pelican is back,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a telephone briefing.
The brown pelican was first declared endangered in 1970 under the Endangered Species Preservation Act, a precursor to the current law.
Once hunted for their feathers for use in women’s hats in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, brown pelicans faced further pressure from the general use of the pesticide DDT, which caused pelican eggshells to become so thin that it interfered with reproduction.
The United States banned general use of DDT in 1972. This decision also hastened the recovery of other formerly endangered species including the bald eagle and peregrine falcon.
The widespread loss of coastal habitat also played a role in the brown pelican’s decline, and sea level rise resulting from climate change could have an impact on its continued recovery, the officials said.
Wednesday’s announcement was the final step in the bird’s recovery. by 1985, enough brown pelicans had returned to Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Atlantic Coast to have them removed from the endangered list in those areas.
Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana hailed the recovery of this iconic bird, which is on the Louisiana flag and a symbol of the state.
“I have spent countless hours with my family watching the sunset over Lake Pontchartrain and observing pelicans feeding off at a distance,” Landrieu said in a statement. “It is one of Louisiana’s great sights and I am delighted the brown pelican will be enjoyed by future generations of Louisianans.”
Editing by Philip Barbara