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Brown pelicans are no longer endangered

After decades on the US Endangered Species list, American brown pelicans have made a comeback.

By DINA CAPPIELLOAssociated Press writer / December 3, 2009

An American Brown Pelican skims the water as it searches for fish in Miami Beach, Fla. After nearly 40 years on the brink of extinction, the brown pelican is coming off the endangered species list.

AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee/FILE)

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Washington, D.C.

Much like its death-defying dives for fish, the brown pelican has resurfaced after plummeting to the brink of extinction.

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Interior Department officials have announced that they were taking the bird off the endangered species list, after a nearly four-decade struggle to keep the brown pelican population afloat.

The bird – now prevalent across Florida, the Gulf and Pacific coasts, and the Caribbean – was declared an endangered species in 1970, after its population — much like those of the bald eagle and peregrine falcon — was decimated by the use of the pesticide DDT. The chemical, consumed when the pelican ate tainted fish, caused it to lay eggs with shells so thin they broke during incubation.

The pelican's recovery is largely due to a 1972 ban on DDT, coupled with efforts by states and conservation groups to protect its nesting sites and monitor its population, Interior Department officials said.

"Today we can say the brown pelican is back," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a conference call with reporters in Washington. "Once again, we see healthy flocks of these graceful birds flying over our shores. The brown pelican is endangered no longer."

The official announcement came earlier at a press conference at Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, which is dubbed the "Pelican State". The bird has been on the state's official seal since 1804, but the pelican had virtually disappeared from its coasts in the 1960s.

"It's been a long journey," said Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, parks for the Interior Department. "It's tracked my whole adult life."

Mr. Strickland acknowledged that the bird's coastal habitat was in danger from rising seas and erosion, but he said wildlife officials were confident the bird was ready to be taken off the list.

Anthony Walgamotte, a 70-something retired levee worker fishing along Irish Bayou outside New Orleans on Wednesday, said he never knew the bird was in trouble. Nearby, brown pelicans rested on pilings every few hundred yards.

"They're plentiful now," he said.

The plight of the brown pelican has tracked closely with the development and birth of the nation's environmental policy and the environmental movement.