500th Endangered Aplomado Falcon Scheduled for Release in Texas
28 July 2000The endangered Aplomado Falcon will take another step toward recovery when the 500th captive raised falcon will be released to the wild. The young falcon is one of fourteen that will be transported on Monday, 31 July 2000 from the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho to Texas. Six of these, including the 500th, will be taken to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and released over a six to eight week period. In 2000 over 100 Aplomado Falcons will make this journey from Boise to Texas.
The species was gone from the United States from the 1950s until 1995 when a nesting pair of captive raised Aplomado Falcons was discovered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has listed the species as endangered. In the mid-1980s, biologists from The Peregrine Fund found a remnant population in Mexico and built a breeding stock from nestlings from different nests.
"The release of the 500th Aplomado Falcon is symbolic of the success of this species recovery effort," stated J. Peter Jenny, Vice President of The Peregrine Fund. "To increase a population of endangered falcons from zero nests to at least 19 in six years is remarkable and a credit to our team of biologists and our cooperators," finished Jenny.
The Aplomado Falcons is a spectacular Texas native species that once thrived in the state and has now returned to the wild through captive breeding and reintroduction. All of the 500 captive-bred Aplomado Falcons released by The Peregrine Fund have been shipped from the group's Boise, Idaho facility to south Texas for release. Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) is providing $5,800 from the Texas Non-game and Endangered Resources Fund to pay for the air transport of the falcons to Texas on 31 July.
"This endangered species success story shows what happens when the right partners come together--in this case, a dedicated nonprofit group, state and federal biologists, and private landowners," said Dr. Gary Graham, TPW wildlife director. "I want to stress the importance of that last group in this story. While government lands such as federal refuges provide important release sites and habitat, the reality is that without voluntary cooperation from private landowners, who own 97 percent of the landscape in Texas, there would be no place for the Aplomado Falcon to return."
Once fairly common in the southwestern United States, the Aplomado Falcon disappeared in the 1950s. Until The Peregrine Fund initiated this recovery project, the last known breeding in the United States occurred in Deming, New Mexico in 1952. The decline of the species occurred mostly during the early part of this century and any that remained in the United States were eliminated by the chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticides developed during World War II.
Key to the success of this endangered species effort has been the development of a "Safe Harbor" agreement between local landowners, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and The Peregrine Fund. The agreement provides a "safe harbor" for the species and a "safe harbor" for the landowner from concerns associated with having an endangered species on their property. The agreement essentially exempts them from additional regulatory responsibility under the Endangered Species Act as a result of any increase in the falcon's population above the current baseline. Property owners maintaining a baseline of Aplomado Falcons and agreeing to the release of Aplomado Falcons would be free to use or develop areas of their property, even if the use results in "incidental take" of an Aplomado Falcon.
The Aplomado Falcon represents an important "indicator" of environmental quality. Falcons are well known to accumulate environmental contaminants because of their unique ecological position at the very pinnacle of the food pyramid. Blood samples taken from this species, over time, can provide biologists with important insight concerning the relative level of environmental contamination found in their habitat. Contaminant levels are of particular concern in south Texas, which exhibits the highest incidence of human brain stem birth defects found anywhere in the United States. Blood samples taken before the Aplomado Falcons are released and periodically thereafter may provide some answers to this problem.
The recovery of the Aplomado Falcon is funded primarily with support from the private sector. Support has come from the Bass Foundation, The Brown Foundation, Ruth Mutch, Kleberg Foundation, Houston Endowment, Exxon Corporation, Central and South West Services, Turner Foundation, Jane Smith Turner Foundation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Tapeats Fund, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the U.S. Coast Guard, the State of Texas Parks and Wildlife, and many others.
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