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California Department of Fish and Game Removes California Brown Pelican from Endangered Species List
channel islands and pacific ocean


California brown pelican is removed from state Endangered Species List in a vote by Fish and Game Commission  in February 2009.

The California brown pelican which breeds in the Gulf of California, Baja California and north to the Channel Islands off shore of Southern California. It is the Pelecanus occidentalis californicus, a subspecies of the brown pelican. Brown pelicans are still protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reviews their status nationwide. Meanwhile... read on...

The California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to remove the California brown pelican from the state endangered species list for the first time ever that a delisting has occurred. The commission president said that the California Endangered Species Act is both loved and hated as we humans struggle to create balance with the impacts of endangered status and native speciess’ needs. The California brown pelican is the first species to fully recover in the close to 40 year history of the organization. It is still illegal to kill or harm a brown pelican in California, but the brown pelican was removed or de-listed due to recommendations that  examined 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.

Fully Protected Species under the Fish and Game Code, the California brown pelican will still hold protected status, though not endangered species status. Researchers in the Channel Islands and Mexico where the brown pelicans nest contributed field work demonstrating the unique roost site needs of brown pelicans during the breeding and non-breeding seasons. National Park Services employees assisted in monitoring and enforcement efforts and wildlife rescue and rehabilitation groups have helped recover brown pelicans, too.

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.