Wood storks, once rare but now relatively common in South Carolina, were upgraded from endangered to threatened Thursday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The announcement was hardly a surprise. The agency presented evidence of the improving health of the population last year when it recommended the change.
“Through important conservation partnerships, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to rebuild a healthy wetland ecosystem, which, in turn, is helping restore the wood stork’s habitat, double its population since its original listing and keep the bird moving in the right direction toward recovery,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.
Even in their lean years, wood storks were known to slip into South Carolina from their traditional nesting areas in Florida and Georgia. But 50 years ago, they were a rare sight here, and no nests were found in the state. The species was listed as endangered in 1984.
As the population rebounded with habitat restoration efforts, more of the birds began making their way into South Carolina. Federal programs helped restore more than 200,000 acres of wetlands in Florida and 115,000 acres in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama in the less than two decades, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The number of nests located in annual surveys by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources rose to 2,020 nests in 2013 from 11 in 1981. One large South Carolina nesting colony is at Dungannon Plantation Heritage Preserve in Charleston County. Twenty-one nesting colonies were identified in 2013 in each coastal counties, as well as Jasper, Hampton and Berkeley counties. Foraging wood storks have been spotted in the Midlands.
When first listed, wood storks were found mostly in Florida, but also in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. They since have spread into North Carolina and Mississippi.
Threatened species get many of the same protections as endangered species, but they can be killed, captured or trapped under a wider range of circumstances than endangered species can. Since the Endangered Species Act took effect in 1973, 27 species have been taken off the list due to recovery, and 30 species have been downgraded from endangered to threatened.