The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to remove a species that spends a little time in Aiken County from the endangered list.
The wood stork, which nests around the state and along the southeast coast, is currently listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act and officials announced this week that they can be reclassified as “threatened.”
Under the Endangered Species Act, there are two categories which are endangered and threatened. Endangered means a species is in danger of extinction and threatened means a species could become endangered in the near future, according to the FWS.
“Although some habitat loss continues, current population data clearly indicate that the wood stork is benefiting from the work of private landowners and several strong partnership efforts,” said FWS Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner in a press release. “The wood stork is expanding its breeding range using a wide variety of wetlands to forage, roost and breed, including man-made and restored wetlands.”
The wood stork was listed as endangered in 1984 but a substantial improvement in the numbers of nesting pairs over the years led to the proposal.
According to Jennifer Koches of the FWS branch in South Carolina, there were only 11 nesting pairs documented in South Carolina in 1981. By 2011, 2,031 pairs were counted in the state.
The numbers dipped to 1,827 in 2012, Koches added, but it was mostly due to drought conditions.
The wood stork does not nest in Aiken County but they do come through in the late summer and fall months, according to Paul Koehler, director of the Silver Bluff Audubon Center & Sanctuary.
“Wood storks do not nest in Aiken County, but they are not far from us where they do nest,” Koehler said, adding that the storks do come later to feed. “The young birds need a leg up in life, and we have a good amount of fish for them to get started on and for the adults, too.”
According to Larry Bryan with the Savannah River Ecology Lab, the closest wood stork nests are in Jenkins County in Georgia, which is approximately 30 miles away.
If the proposal is approved, conservation efforts will continue to protect the wood stork, the release read.
The announcement of the proposal should publish in the Federal Register some time this week, Koches said. When it’s published, there will be a 60-day public comment period. Those comments will be considered by the FWS when it makes its final decision on classifying the wood stork as “threatened.”
Anyone who would like to submit comments or information regarding the wood stork’s reclassification proposal may visit www.regulations.gov. Follow instructions for submitting comments for Docket FWS-R4-ES-2011-0020.
They can also be mailed to Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R4-ES-2011-0020; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 222; Arlington, VA 22203.