Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Proposed to Downlist as Threatened

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Proposed to Downlist as Threatened

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced on September 25 that it is proposing to downlist the red-cockaded woodpecker from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The announcement was made at Fort Benning, Georgia as Army, Air Force and Marine Corps installations in the Southeast have worked to collaboratively to improve habitat to achieve recovery goals. In 1998, there were 153 potential breeding groups on Fort Benning and a recovery goal of 351 breeding groups. Today there are an estimated 412 breeding groups on the installation.

“This action validates the success of Fort Benning’s ongoing sustainability efforts,” said Col. Matthew Scalia, Garrison Commander at Fort Benning. “It demonstrates our commitment to conserve natural resources and illustrates what we can achieve by working together with federal, state, non-profit and community partners. It is a testament that military and conservation goals are compatible. Fort Benning will continue to support the successful recovery and growth of red-cockaded woodpecker populations.”

Red-cockaded woodpeckers were once abundant from New Jersey to Florida and west to Texas and Missouri. However, after significant habitat loss, there was an all-time low of an estimated 1,470 clusters of the birds. Collaborative conservation efforts have focused on a variety of programs including creating artificial nest cavities, reestablishing and restoring longleaf pine forests, and building partnerships with private landowners through Safe Harbor Agreements. Through these efforts, more than 1.3 million acres of new longleaf pine stands have been established and hundreds of cavity inserts have been installed. Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) estimates nearly 7,800 clusters across 11 states from southern Virginia to eastern Texas.

In addition to the proposal to downlist the species, the FWS is proposing a special rule under section 4(d) of the ESA. The rule would prohibit incidental take from actions that reduce or degrade woodpecker habitat. This includes impacts to cavity trees, actions that would harass red-cockaded woodpeckers during the breeding season and the use of insecticides near clusters, which are groups of cavity trees used by a group of woodpeckers for nesting and roosting.

The proposal to change the status of the red-cockaded woodpecker from endangered to threatened will be published in the Federal Register, opening a 60-day public comment period. The proposed rule and supporting documents, including the species status assessment report and references cited, are available online under Docket No. FWS–R4–ES–2019–0018.

October 15, 2020