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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228


July 12, 2005

Contact: Ken Torkelson at 701-355-8528


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating high chick mortality and the departure of many of the American white pelicans at Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Medina, ND.

A July 8 inspection revealed about 300-500 live chicks remaining after a nesting period that had the potential to produce as many as 9,000. However, biologists believe the estimate of live chicks remaining is likely low because tall vegetation is hindering visibility. That same check showed about 2,000 adults remaining from a late May population estimated at 18,850.

Samples have been collected and sent to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. to determine the cause of the chick mortality. Preliminary results could be available in a week.

Following the disappearance of about 30,000 pelicans from the colony in late May and early June 2004, the Service and its partners, including the U.S. Geological Survey’s Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center and the ND Game and Fish Department, began intensive monitoring of the colony to learn more about the abandonment of nests, eggs and newly-hatched chicks. Scientists have yet to determine what caused the 2004 abandonment.

Researchers on site last week noted that the remaining chicks are being cared for by the adults, which is a key difference from last year, when adults abandoned both nests and young.

The Service and its partners took several steps in the spring of 2005 to minimize human disturbance. The Service restricted visitor access to the nesting areas to reduce the risk of disturbance during the sensitive nesting period. A barrier fence was constructed to exclude predators such as coyotes and foxes from the peninsula colony where abandonment was first observed last year. Additionally, cameras and human observers with binoculars and spotting scopes are being used to monitor the colony.

"Although we haven’t been able to come up with the reason for the 2004 abandonment," noted Service spokesperson Ken Torkelson, "we hoped a return to normalcy at Chase Lake this year would have given us more time to study it." He added, "Unfortunately, this year’s high chick mortality may complicate that investigation. It is still entirely possible that last year’s abandonment was a quirk of nature; one of those strange occurrences that never gets explained."

The pelican colony at Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge has been the largest in North America, peaking at 35,466 birds in 2000 after the population was as low as 50 pelicans in the early 1900s.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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