The bird now prevalent across Florida, the Gulf and Pacific coasts and the Caribbean was declared an endangered species in 1970, after its population was devastated by the use of the pesticide DDT. The pelican's recovery is largely due to a 1972 ban on the chemical, coupled with efforts by states and conservation groups to protect its nesting sites and monitor its population.
"After being hunted for its feathers, facing devastating effects from the pesticide DDT and suffering from widespread habitat loss, the pelican has made a remarkable recovery," Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks for the Interior Department says in a statement obtained in advance by The Associated Press. "We once again see healthy flocks of pelicans in the air over our shores."
Strickland, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Fish and Wildlife Service director Sam Hamilton are set to make the announcement Wednesday afternoon, the AP has learned.
The plight of the brown pelican has tracked closely with the development and birth of the nation's environmental policy and the environmental movement. It was listed as endangered before Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973. And its struggle for survival, initially due to hunting for its feathers, led to the birth of the National Wildlife Refuge System more than 100 years ago. That's when President Theodore Roosevelt created the first refuge at Pelican Island in Florida.
Nowadays, the bird is prevalent along the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, California, Washington and Oregon. It can be seen dramatically diving headfirst into the water to emerge with a mouthful of fish.
The Bush administration in early 2008 proposed taking the bird completely off the endangered species list. In 1985, the Fish and Wildlife Service removed brown pelicans living in Alabama, Georgia, Florida and up the Atlantic Coast from the list.
Some environmentalists Wednesday said that they would like to see populations in the Western Gulf and the Caribbean stay on the list. Along the Gulf Coast the concern is that the population lives on low-lying islands vulnerable to hurricanes and the rising sea levels expected to come with global warming. In the Caribbean, the question is whether the population has been sufficiently monitored.
"We remain very concerned with the long-term viability in the face of global warming and hurricanes," said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity. "We would prefer to see the federal government secure long-term agreements (along the Gulf) to ensure coastal nesting habitat is going to be restored and protected in perpetuity."
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.