Under threat of lawsuit U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agrees to reassess listing of wood stork

September 21, 2010 | By PACIFIC LEGAL FOUNDATION

Author:  Reed Hopper

Under the ESA, the Service is required to review the status of listed species every five years to determine if less or more protections are required.  Unfortunately, this is a task the Service rarely performs, except under duress.  Pacific Legal Foundation has had to compel these 5-year status reviews for literally hundreds of species in California and Florida.  The wood stork is a case in point; after 16 years without a review, the Florida Home Builders Association, represented by PLF, had to petition the Service to conduct such a review.  When the service failed to respond, we brought suit which resulted in a court order to complete a status review for the wood stork in 2007.  That review resulted in a recommendation by the Service's own biologists to downlist the wood stork from endangered to threatened because of substantial increases in population and improvements in habitat.  The wood stork population is currently estimated at more than 10,000 nesting pairs, far exceeding the recovery goal of 6,000 nesting pairs.  However, the Service never acted on its own recommendation.

Once again, the Florida Home Builders Association had to petition the Service to do its duty and downlist the wood stork.  But, the Service again failed to respond.  In July of this year we sent a 60-day Notice of Intent to sue if the Service did not immediately act on the petition.  Today, the Service finally responded by issuing a notice that the petiton for downlisting warranted further review.  Although the Service could rely on its own recommendation from the 2007 status review and downlist the wood stork immediately, the ESA authorizes the Service to consider the matter for another 12 months after which the Service will be required to make a final listing decision. 

It is unfortunate that the Service has to be brow beaten into performing its legal obligations under the Endangered Species Act, and that the service has chosen to delay action for the sake of "further review," but if the latest scientific information shows that the wood stork has recovered more than was apparent in the court-ordered status review in 2007, the Service could decide that the wood stork no longer needs the protections of the ESA and delist the species altogether.