FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 7, 2000
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Daniel Boone National Forest, and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources today announced plans to begin rescuing red-cockaded woodpeckers from southern pine beetle infested habitat on the forest as early as next week. Currently, 15 woodpeckers are roosting in the shortleaf pine habitat in six family groups. The woodpeckers will be captured and relocated to the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina and the Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas.
"The decision to relocate the woodpeckers was a very difficult one for us to make," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We commend our partners from the Daniel Boone National Forest, the State of Kentucky, and the local community for expending so much energy on trying to save the birds' habitat. However, the southern pine beetle has destroyed the habitat, and we have no other choice but to remove the woodpeckers before the start of their breeding season to allow them to successfully breed in a healthy environment."
The difficult decision to rescue the federally endangered birds from the forest came after extensive efforts to control the southern pine beetle epidemic that took hold in December 1999. The Daniel Boone National Forest exhausted several management options in an effort to prevent the beetles from destroying red-cockaded woodpecker nesting cavities, including managed logging of infested trees. However, due to drought conditions, above average temperatures, and other factors the beetle infestations have destroyed 85 percent to 90 percent of the habitat management area for the woodpeckers.
"Initially, we were very optimistic that much of their habitat could be saved; however, the beetle literally outran us," said Daniel Boone Forest Supervisor Ben Worthington. "In fact, this epidemic has been much more devastating than anything our forest health specialists have seen. This turn of events is especially hard on the employees and volunteers who have devoted many years to this restoration effort."
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management offices, and 78 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 governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.
Biologists will begin capturing woodpeckers starting the week of March 12 in order to relocate all of the birds by April 1, in time for the 2001 breeding season. Two groups consisting of six Daniel Boone National Forest woodpeckers will be translocated to the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, which currently is home to 100 woodpecker groups. (A group consists of one or more woodpeckers and can include a breeding male and female and several helpers.) Nine birds consisting of four groups will be translocated to the Ouachita National Forest, Ark., a fire-managed shortleaf pine ecosystem that currently harbors 20 woodpecker groups.
Federal and state biologists believe that these sites provide the best opportunity for the woodpeckers from the Daniel Boone National Forest to quickly acclimate and breed this season. The refuge and forest also have experienced biologists on staff who will be able to monitor the birds, once they are moved.
With the removal of the woodpeckers from the forest, there will be no known red-cockaded woodpeckers left in the State of Kentucky. Before deciding to remove woodpeckers from the State, the federal and state agencies involved discussed the possibility of moving the birds to another site within Kentucky. However, a suitable location of the size and habitat type required for the woodpeckers is not available in Kentucky at this time. Red-cockaded woodpeckers historically were found in Kentucky, and as far north as Maryland and New Jersey. However, the clusters in the Daniel Boone National Forest were the current northern-most population within the species' range.
The possibility of seeing red-cockaded woodpeckers restored to their native habitat in the State of Kentucky is not lost. The first step should be an aggressive effort to restore the native, shortleaf pine ecosystem on those portions of the forest where natural fires play a key role in shaping pine-dominated habitats. Once the habitat is established, there will be an opportunity to return these unique birds to the State of Kentucky.
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