Audubon Joins Groups Opposing the Removal of Red-cockaded Woodpecker Protections

A revised proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service strengthens some protections, but would still prematurely remove endangered status for this bird on the brink.

Audubon North Carolina and a coalition of groups have signed a letter opposing the removal of endangered species protections for Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, an iconic species of North Carolina’s longleaf pine forests. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s revised proposal, released earlier this year, includes some improvements, such as changes to provisions that would have allowed more leeway for harmful actions against Red-cockaded Woodpeckers. But the bottom line is that the agency’s proposal would still prematurely remove protections for this imperiled bird without the scientific and legal support to back it up. 

Red-cockaded Woodpeckers are unique because of their dependence on old growth pine forests, especially longleaf pine. Unlike other woodpecker species, they nest only in live trees, always in highly social family groups. The sticky pine pitch that forms around a nest cavity helps keep snakes and other predators away. 

We’ve seen improvements in Red-cockaded Woodpecker restoration in recent years, especially by our partners at military bases like Fort Bragg, home to the country’s second largest concentration of this rare woodpecker. Groups like the Longleaf Alliance have led restoration efforts on private lands.  This restoration work has been important, but longleaf pine forests still cover just 3 percent of their historic range.  

Currently, the majority of Red-cockaded Woodpecker populations live in isolated segments of pine savannah. Because the birds are concentrated in just a few places, mostly public lands where fire can be used to create and maintain habitat more easily and effectively, they remain extremely vulnerable to catastrophic loss.  

Our changing climate also poses a growing threat into the future, from hurricanes that damage forests to rising seas, which degrade low lying pine forests as salt water and marsh creep upland.  We urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to incorporate the suggestions in the letter and work toward truly recovering this species. 

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