WASHINGTON — Much like its death-defying dives for fish, the brown pelican has resurfaced after plummeting to the brink of extinction.
Interior Department officials Wednesday announced that they were taking the bird off the endangered species list, after a nearly four-decade struggle to keep the brown pelican population afloat.
The bird, now prevalent across Florida, the Gulf and Pacific coasts and the Caribbean, was declared an endangered species in 1970, after its population - much like those of the bald eagle and peregrine falcon - was decimated by the use of the pesticide DDT. The chemical, consumed when the pelican ate tainted fish, caused it to lay eggs with shells so thin they broke during incubation.
The pelican’s recovery is largely due to a 1972 ban on DDT, coupled with efforts by states and conservation groups to protect its nesting sites and monitor its population, Interior Department officials said.
“Today we can say the brown pelican is back,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a conference call with reporters in Washington. “Once again, we see healthy flocks of these graceful birds flying over our shores. The brown pelicanis endangered no longer.”
The official announcement came earlier at a news conference at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, which is dubbed the Pelican State. The bird has been on the state’s official seal since 1804, but the pelican had virtually disappeared from its coasts in the 1960s.
The Bush administration in early 2008 proposed removing the bird from the endangered species list. In 1985, the Fish and Wildlife Service eliminated brown pelicans living in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and up the Atlantic Coast from the list.
The announcement does not remove all protections for the species. It will still be protected by other laws, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Information for this article was contributed by Cain Burdeau of The Associated Press.