Two leading conservation organizations this week called upon the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to follow through with statutory monitoring and protection for the iconic California Brown Pelican. The organizations specifically note that the Service was obliged to monitor breeding and roosting pelican populations following its delisting of the species in 2009, and that this has not taken place. (photo by Frank Taylor)
Beginning in 2010, there have been reports up and down the California coast of young pelicans seeking food inland, turning up in parking lots and shopping malls. At the same time, pelicans have suffered from multi-year breeding failure at the Channel Islands – the first time this has happened in 20 years. Biologists are attributing the breeding failures to a lack of forage fish near the colonies. In order to breed successfully, Brown Pelicans require sufficient prey in proximity to colonies, in particular, sardines and anchovies. In recent years, the abundance of both of these forage fish has declined in southern California.
“Without a monitoring plan in place, the Service is walking away from California Brown Pelicans at a time when they may need us most,” said Anna Weinstein, Audubon California’s seabird and marine program manager. “The return of the Brown Pelican is one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time, but that’s no reason to slap high-fives and disappear,” added Weinstein. “The agency has an obligation to ensure that this bird doesn’t fall back to where it was before its recovery.”
The California Brown Pelican subspecies breeds in the northeast Pacific from mainland Mexico through the U.S. Channel Islands, and winters in California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. The most recent population estimate of the brown pelican subspecies that ranges from California to Mexico along the Pacific Coast is approximately 70,680 nesting pairs. 15 to 20 percent of California Brown Pelicans nest on the U.S. Channel Islands, also the northernmost breeding site for this population.
According to the Endangered Species Act, when a species is removed from protected status, the federal government is obliged to create and implement a post-delisting monitoring plan. The Service published a draft Plan in 2009, simultaneous with the delisting of three subspecies of Brown Pelicans. However, the agency never finalized the Plan and never followed through with any of the draft plan’s recommendations. This is not business as usual at the Service- other delisted species including Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle and Gray Wolf have final plans that have been strongly implemented.
Audubon California and the Center for Biological Diversity are also asking the Service to create a Brown Pelican Working Group, comprised of experts from inside and outside government, to analyze monitoring data and recommend conservation action, if needed.