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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.

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It was listed as endangered before Congress passed the Endangered Species Act in 1973. And its struggle for survival, initially due to hunting for feathers to decorate hats, led to the birth of the National Wildlife Refuge System more than 100 years ago. That's when President Theodore Roosevelt created the first refuge at Pelican Island in Florida.

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Nowadays the bird is prevalent along the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, California, Washington and Oregon, and its global population, including the Caribbean and Latin America, is estimated at 650,000. It can often be seen dramatically diving headfirst into the water to emerge with a mouthful of fish.

The Bush administration in early 2008 proposed removing the bird from the endangered species list. In 1985, the Fish and Wildlife Service eliminated brown pelicans living in Alabama, Georgia, Florida .and up the Atlantic Coast from the list.

Some environmentalists have said that they would like to see populations in the Western Gulf and the Caribbean stay on the list.

Along the Gulf Coast the concern is that the population lives on low-lying islands and coasts vulnerable to hurricanes and the rising sea levels expected to come with global warming. In the Caribbean, the question is whether the population has been sufficiently monitored.

"We remain very concerned with the long-term viability in the face of global warming and hurricanes," said Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity. "We would prefer to see the federal government secure long-term agreements (along the Gulf) to ensure coastal nesting habitat is going to be restored and protected in perpetuity."

The announcement does not remove all protections for the species. It will still be protected by other laws, such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Associated Press writers Cain Burdeau from New Orleans and Jeff Barnard from Grants Pass, Ore., contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: For more articles about the environment, see the Monitor’s main environment page, which offers information on many environment topics. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.