Federal officials announced Wednesday that they were removing the brown pelican from the endangered species list, capping a century-long recovery that started under President Theodore Roosevelt.
The brown pelican is a fixture in Southern California and along the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida, where Roosevelt established the first national wildlife refuge on Pelican Island to protect the bird from human slaughter.
It is an icon in Louisiana, where it is the state bird and where Interior Department officials assembled Wednesday at the Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge near New Orleans to proclaim the brown pelican “fully recovered” and no longer in need of federal protection.
“In many ways, the brown pelican stands as a symbol of our nation’s struggle to protect and conserve our wildlife,” said Tom Strickland, assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.
He said the bird had made “a long, long steady climb back . . . from the brink of extinction.”
Brown pelicans were first imperiled by hunters who prized their feathers. Later, the bird suffered heavily from the effects of the pesticide DDT, sprayed for mosquito control, which weakened pelican eggs so that they cracked prematurely.
The bird appeared poised for removal from the endangered list several years ago, but was set back by Gulf Coast oil spills and habitat destruction from Hurricane Katrina.
The Interior Department said Wednesday that the brown pelican population had swelled to more than 650,000 throughout North and Central America -- a recovery officials attributed largely to a federal ban on DDT imposed in 1972.
Pelican populations in Florida and along the Atlantic Coast were removed from the endangered list in the mid-1980s. Wednesday’s announcement removes the entire national population from the list.
The delisting means that federal agencies no longer need to consider effects on brown pelicans when approving development such as roads. Federal scientists will continue to monitor population levels.
Pelican recovery “shows that the Endangered Species Act, America’s strongest environmental law, actually works,” said Sam Hamilton, director of the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) said it showed the nation “that we can achieve a balance on our working coast.”
Hundreds of brown pelicans flapped beneath Hamilton and Strickland’s plane Wednesday when they joined several federal officials for a tour of the southeastern Louisiana coast.
The flight also brought a cautionary note.
Midway through, the plane circled over an island wildlife refuge, also designated by Roosevelt, where the president was captured in an iconic photograph with a pelican.
The waters were swollen from the effects of Hurricane Ida. And the island and its prime pelican habitat were nowhere to be seen.