Laurie Macdonald, Florida Program Director
The American wood stork has made a notable comeback in the nearly 20 years since it was put on the endangered species list. Historic nesting colonies in the Greater Everglades continue to need concerted conservation action and habitat restoration for a full recovery — the largest wood stork rookery in the nation at Corkscrew Swamp has had no nesting in five of the last six years. But there is still cause to celebrate: today there are between 7,000 and 9,500 breeding pairs in the wild, well above the 6,000 pair marker needed to upgrade the bird’s overall status from endangered to threatened, which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed doing in December. It’s an important species here in Florida, and the recent news of its progress was a fitting end-of-the-year announcement for all who care about our nation’s wildlife. It’s also a fitting reminder of the importance of the Endangered Species Act, as it enters its fortieth year.
The Endangered Species Act was signed into law by Richard Nixon in December of 1973 and since its inception, less than one percent of species on the list have been removed due to extinction. The act is an enduring piece of legislation, and for good reason: it works.
With 60 Florida animal species currently on the federal endangered species list, the Endangered Species Act has had particular impact in this state. Wood storks aren’t the only species here that are moving away from the brink of extinction: many others, such as the Florida panther, Key deer, brown pelican and manatee, have benefited significantly from the conservation efforts of the Endangered Species Act.
But wildlife conservation in Florida doesn’t just help species. It also contributes to our local economies: manatee watching in Florida state parks and snorkeling at protected coral reefs in the Florida Keys attracts thousands of visitors and generates millions of dollars in revenue per year. Our wildlife refuges, known across the United States for the wide range of species and habitats they protect, also provide jobs and revenue to nearby communities.
Despite this success, the Endangered Species Act faces countless attacks from the oil industry and corporate agriculture interests, to say nothing of relentless attacks from extreme anti-conservation Members of Congress. It’s a shame they don’t value and appreciate what the loss of protection for Florida imperiled wildlife would mean for both our economy and the many delicate ecosystems in our state. And that’s not all: protected habitat serves a vital role in buffering human communities from natural disasters. As we look back on the disastrous weather events of 2012-record drought, forest fires, and a devastating hurricane- we must also look to the year ahead and beyond, and recognize that preserving endangered species and their habitat contributes to our own health, safety and prosperity.
The Endangered Species Act is a cornerstone of our nation’s conservation laws, like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. It acknowledges the beauty of the diverse wildlife and natural landscapes across our country and is a demonstration of the commitment we made decades ago to preserve our natural heritage. In the words of Richard Nixon, in its wildlife and wild places the United States has “a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike.” The continued recovery of the wood stork under the Endangered Species Act is but the latest progress we’ve had in preserving that treasure for future generations.