While environmental groups, such as local Audubon society chapters and the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, usually have common goals in mind, it is not unheard of for them to butt heads when it comes to determining the correct course of action in preserving the earth’s rich and delicate wildlife. In the United States, the Endangered Species Act is one of the most important preservation tools available. Established in 1973, the Endangered Species Act sets forth protections for species that are classified as “threatened” or “endangered.” The list of such species is often referred to as the “Endangered Species List” and features various tiers of concern levels depending upon the strength of the remaining populations of the animals in question. It is this list which is causing the current disagreements amongst conservation agencies.
The wood stork is what is known as an “indicator species.” This means that the health and wellbeing of wood stork populations are taken as a sort of litmus test to determine the overall wellbeing of the habitat. Wood storks rely upon the delicate habitat of the everglades and wetlands to survive, so when wood storks thrive it can be assumed that the everglades are doing well too. Since the 1930s, the wood stork has indicated looming disaster for these biodiversity-rich habitats. As human developments spread, wood stork populations shrank by up to ninety percent. They were, rightfully, added to the Endangered Species List.
Now, however, the wood stork is poised to be removed from the list in a move that some organizations are celebrating, whilst others remain apprehensive. With numbers doubling from 5,000 pairs in the eighties to 10,000 pairs today, and the number of breeding colonies tripling in recent years, the wood stork looks to be poised to make a complete and inspiring comeback thanks to the extra support that its endangered status has afforded to it. While the Center for Biological Diversity applauds this move, the Florida Audubon society has stated their concern that the change is being proposed too hastily and that the wood stork’s comeback remains precarious.
Delisting the wood stork would not treat its recovery as complete, as the wood stork is only being proposed that the wood stork be listed as “threatened” rather than “endangered.” Still, there are those who believe that this move will remove needed support from a delicate recovering population. The wood stork will, in either case, continue to be protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
The everglades remain under threat, but the apparent success of one of its endangered indicator species is a very positive sign. Whether or not the wood stork is delisted, these majestic birds remain an important species to watch as we undertake efforts to preserve America’s wetlands and the wealth of wildlife which depend upon them.