Fish and Game Commission votes to remove California brown pelican from state Endangered Species List

At its February 5 meeting, the California Fish and Game
Commission voted unanimously to remove the California brown pelican
from the state endangered species list. This is the first time the
Commission has ever voted to delist an endangered species due to
its recovery.

“Every Californian should be proud of this landmark decision,”
said Commission President Cindy Gustafson. “The California
Endangered Species Act is both loved and hated as we struggle to
balance human impacts on our native species’ needs. This is a story
of magnificent success. In the 38-year history of our protection of
endangered species under the act, the California brown pelican is
the first species to fully recover. We hope to have many more.”

The decision was based on a recommendation by Department of Fish
and Game (DFG) biologists contained in a report called a status
review. The delisting recommendation relied on studies showing an
increased breeding population on West Anacapa Island in the Channel
Islands, expansion of breeding pairs on Santa Barbara Island,
increased productivity and fledgling numbers, and the fact that
nesting sites are under generally-protective National Park Service
(NPS) ownership or management. In spite of known threats, the
breeding population of brown pelicans in California has increased
substantially in recent years.

The Commission’s decision to delist the brown pelican will now
be reviewed by the Office of Administrative Law before the large
seabird can be officially removed from the Endangered Species list.
The California brown pelican is designated as a Fully Protected
Species under the Fish and Game Code, and that will not change as a
result of the delisting. It is still illegal to kill or harm a
brown pelican in California.

“DFG’s ability to make the delisting recommendation would not
have been possible without years of fieldwork by dedicated
researchers in the Channel Islands and Mexico where the brown
pelicans nest. In particular, the contributions to brown pelican
recovery by Dr. Frank Gress and Dr. Dan Anderson of UC Davis
deserve special recognition,“ said DFG wildlife biologist Esther
Burkett.

Biologist Deborah Jaques, a former UC Davis student under Dr.
Anderson, also contributed with her field work demonstrating the
unique roost site needs of brown pelicans during the breeding and
non-breeding seasons. NPS employees also assisted in monitoring and
enforcement efforts. Numerous wildlife rescue and rehabilitation
groups have helped recover brown pelicans as well, most notably the
International Bird Research Rescue Center and Sea World-San
Diego.

The California brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis
californicus) is a subspecies of the widely distributed brown
pelican. It breeds in the Gulf of California, along the Sinaloa and
Nayarit coast of mainland Mexico, along the Pacific coast of Baja
California and north to California’s Channel Islands. Non-breeding
pelicans range north along the Pacific coast as far as British
Columbia. Brown pelicans also visit the Salton Sea after breeding
in Mexico. They are still protected under the federal Endangered
Species Act, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)
reviews their status nationwide.

Following reproductive failure, severe population decline and
colony losses from the 1940s to 1970s, the California brown pelican
was federally listed as endangered by the USFWS in 1970 and
state-listed as endangered by the California Fish and Game
Commission in 1971.

The decline of the California brown pelican and other species
due to the effects of the persistent pesticide DDT was one of the
major events that helped to develop public concern for the
environment and related laws in California in the late 1960s and
early 1970s.

Contamination by the pesticide DDT resulted in thin eggshells
that broke under the pressure of incubating adult pelicans. The
pesticide was determined to be the primary cause of reproductive
failures and population declines in Southern California and coastal
Baja California, and was banned in the U.S. in 1972. Human
disturbance of breeding colonies and roosts also contributed to
population declines and poor reproduction. Oil spills and
entanglement in fishing tackle are other known threats to
pelicans.

Recovery efforts in the last three decades have resulted in the
seabird again becoming a common resident of the west coast of the
U.S., after being reduced to small numbers from the 1960s to 1980s.
There are now an estimated 8,500 breeding pairs in the Channel
Islands, the only area in California where brown pelicans nest.

While the California brown pelican will no longer be considered
endangered under the state endangered species act, they – like any
other wild animal – still must not be harassed or injured by
anyone. Seabirds and shorebirds are often seen resting on beaches,
islands, estuaries and jetties after spending hours searching for
prey to sustain themselves. People who enjoy using those areas
should keep children and dogs away from the birds to ensure they
are not disturbed during these critical resting periods.

DFG, USFWS and the NPS will continue to cooperatively monitor
the California brown pelican. California taxpayers can support
DFG’s Rare and Endangered Species Preservation program by donating
to a dedicated fund found on Line 403 of their state tax Form
540.

For more information about this and other non-game wildlife,
please visit the DFG Web site at www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/species.
The California brown pelican status review can be found at
www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/species/publications/docs/BRPEStatusReviewJan0308.pdf
.

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