The Florida sandhill crane was among 13 animals denied federal protection under the Endangered Species Act on Dec. 18.
The unique-looking birds are a common sight in Osceola County. St. Cloud officials even voted to make it the city’s official bird earlier this year.
The Endangered Species Act requires decisions about species protection to take two years, but on average, it has taken the agency 12 years, according to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.
To address a backlog of more than 500 species awaiting protection decisions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service developed a seven-year workplan in late 2017.
Kim Titterington, a Kissimmee native and founder of an environmental education group called Swamp Girl Adventures, said she was disappointed to hear the news.
“Losing protection on any animal like this, especially with continued development in Florida, is scary,” Titterington said.
Titterington’s group specializes in protecting and rehabilitating turtles and tortoises, but the environmentalist said she’s still come across many injured sandhill cranes.
Injuries stem almost entirely from cars, she said, and can result in broken legs, wings and pelvic bones.
Titterington recalled a particularly heartbreaking case earlier this year where both legs on a young sandhill crane were destroyed and the animal had to be euthanized.
“He was still fuzzy, he was so young,” she recalled. “I remember him looking up at me and just knowing he wasn’t going to make it.”
The Endangered Species Act helps spread awareness about at-risk animals, Titterington said. If it’s not on the list, people may not even realize an animal or its habitat is threatened.
SeaWorld’s Aviation Protection program continues to assist sandhill crane rehabilitation and education efforts.
In May, the program’s agricultural director, Dean Moberg, spoke to the St. Cloud City Council about threats the bird is facing. He also mentioned the affinity local residents have for sandhill cranes.
“When I’m out performing rescues in these areas, I’m down in St. Cloud quite a bit, and there’s a really strong community connection,” said Moberg. “There are those who don’t like them, but for the most part, they have a real strong bond with the community.”
There are about 4,000 Florida Sandhill Cranes in the world, and about 400 of them live in and around St. Cloud, according to Jeannie Donohue, president of the Florida Sandhill Crane Preservation Society.
The birds are still protected as “threatened” animals, but the decision Tuesday prevented them from receiving greater protections as an endangered species.