November 13, 2009

Brown pelicans delisted — now what?

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Hey folks, this was supposed to post yesterday, but…here goes.

I grew up playing in the water of the Gulf of Mexico, where I watched brown pelicans dive for mullet — the same mullet my grampa and I liked to catch.  We had our cast nets fringed with weights.  The pelicans had their mighty beaks and amazing expanding throats.  Game on.

But it wasn’t my grampa’s mullet-catching prowess that nearly did the brown pelican in.  No, it was DDT, a pesticide that weakened brown pelican eggs so much that they couldn’t hatch.

Anyone who’s seen a pelican flatten itself into a three-pronged bullet before plunging into the water can attest to the bird’s glory, which was nearly decimated by the chemicals draining from the fields of our great nation.

Banning DDT in 1972 helped take the brown pelican off the endangered species list from Texas to Florida in the mid 1980s, but it took another two decades for Southern California’s brown pelican population to recover enough to get off that list — yesterday.  Protecting the pelican’s nesting sites and habitat also helped its recuperation.

Government officials and environmentalists alike hailed the endangered species act’s success in bringing brown pelicans back from the brink of extinction.  An estimated 650,000 brown pelicans now skim the waters of North and Central America.

But the Audubon Society also cautions that conservation efforts must continue despite the delisting, which the Los Angeles Times noted “means that federal agencies will no longer need to consider effects on brown pelicans when approving development such as road building.”

Consider that the massacre of brown pelicans in central Florida led to the creation of the National Wildlife Refuge System (thank you, Teddy Roosevelt).  Protecting species is tantamount to protecting the lands which nurture them, so as we remove the safeguards for the former, the latter are also less secure.

Yesterday’s news is evidence of the Endangered Species Act’s success, but a sharp eye must be kept on the population moving forward.   Check out the feds’ post-delisting plan for the brown pelican here.

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