Tahoe City resident helps save brown pelican
TAHOE CITY ” At the helm of a milestone decision for the California Fish and Game Commission, Cindy Gustafson, a Tahoe City resident, presided over the vote to remove an animal from the state endangered species list due to its recovery, the first such decision in the organization’s 38-year history.
Based on a recommendation by the Department of Fish and Game biologists, the commission voted unanimously in early February to remove the California brown pelican from the list.
The decision is a major accomplishment for California, a leader in protecting wildlife species, Gustafson said. “This is a great success story,” she added.
Gustafson was appointed commission president on June 20, 2005, and attends meetings on days off from her day job as the general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility District, where she is serving the final year of her term.
All members of the commission are volunteers who attend meetings once a month in various locations around California and are given a $100 stipend for each meeting.
In light of the recently passed state budget, however, meetings this year will be held in Sacramento.
The California brown pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis californicus) is a subspecies of the widely distributed brown pelican. They are still protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 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 in 1970 and state-listed as endangered by the California Fish and Game Commission in 1971.
The decline of the California brown pelican was due in part to the effects of the persistent pesticide DDT, which thins eggshells so that they broke under the pressure of incubating adult pelicans.
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.
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 ownership or management.
In spite of known threats, the breeding population of brown pelicans in California has increased substantially in recent years. There are now an estimated 8,500 breeding pairs in the Channel Islands, the only area in California where brown pelicans nest.
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.