Alabama Signs Statewide Safe Harbor Agreement for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker
MONTGOMERY – The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) today announced the initiation of a statewide conservation program for the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW). The Safe Harbor program kick-off was held at Sehoy Plantation near Hurtsboro, AL. The event was hosted by Campbell “Cam” Lanier, the program’s first enrollee.
The Safe Harbor Program provides a mechanism through which private landowners can agree to manage their lands in a manner that benefits a protected species. In return, they receive an assurance that they will not suffer from increased regulatory requirements should more of the protected species occupy their land.
“This program is a good example of partnerships between government agencies and private landowners,” said M. Barnett Lawley, commissioner of conservation for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “By working together, both landowners and endangered species like the red-cockaded woodpecker will benefit from the Safe Harbor program.”
ADCNR signed the agreement with USFWS in January 2007. Since then, officials from the two agencies have been finalizing details and working with landowners to prepare to enroll participants.
Campbell Lanier III signed on as the first enrollee in the Alabama program. Lanier’s property includes Sehoy Plantation, where the ceremony was held, and Enon Plantation, also near Hurtsboro.
Lanier has been active in protecting wildlife habitat for many years, and was named Conservationist of the Year by the Alabama Wildlife Federation in 2004. More than 18,000 acres of the two plantations are currently protected under conservation easements. The rolling hills of Sehoy and Enon Plantations, expertly managed for bobwhite quail, also contain more than 12,000 acres of suitable RCW habitat.
“Enrolling in Safe Harbor was an easy decision for me once I had all the facts,” Cam Lanier said. “In a landscape managed for quail, aesthetics, and timber, managing for woodpeckers is something I was already doing. After researching the program, I realized that managing for an endangered species was not something to fear, but something I was already doing.”
“It’s a win-win situation,” said Sam Hamilton, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Private landowners are integral partners in fish and wildlife conservation. RCW recovery goals cannot be met without commitments from private landowners. Safe Harbor is a prime example of how collaborative conservation can benefit our trust resources.”
During the ceremony, ADCNR provided opportunities for landowners to sign “Declarations of Intent,” a non-binding agreement signifying an interest in becoming a part of the program at a later date. Landowners signing Declarations of Intent can be enrolled in the program following a baseline survey for existing RCW clusters and completion of the necessary paperwork.
Alabama is the eighth state to implement a statewide agreement for the red-cockaded woodpecker. Across the Southeast, Safe Harbor agreements have provided opportunities for 268 private landowners to enroll 621,035 acres in the program. Acreage enrolled in the program accounts for 613 RCW groups, including 57 new Safe Harbor RCW groups that have been created.
“Landowners receive regulatory certainty, and retain management flexibility and complete control over their land, while protected species benefit from high quality habitats maintained on private land,” said Eric Spadgenske, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service private lands biologist.
The program is strictly voluntary. Landowners can enroll their property if they have currently occupied, suitable, or potentially suitable RCW habitat, provided they agree to provide a net conservation benefit to the species. Net conservation benefits can be provided through activities such as prescribed burning and managing pine timber on longer rotations.
Before a property is enrolled, a baseline survey is done to determine how many clusters of RCWs exist. The landowner then agrees to manage the property to make it more conducive to hosting the species. In return, the wildlife agencies agree to not hold them responsible for any additional RCWs that result from the improved habitat, should the landowner eventually choose to use the property in another way in the future.
“Enrollment in the program doesn’t prevent the land from being used for other things,” said Gary Moody, the Department of Conservation’s wildlife section chief. “Other uses fit well with the management practices needed for RCW habitat, such as limited timber harvesting, hunting, cattle production or pine straw harvesting. Quail management is often recognized as a compatible use but many wildlife species benefit from the management for RCWs.”
For further information about the statewide Safe Harbor Program for red-cockaded woodpeckers in Alabama, contact Bob Hastings, Alabama Natural Heritage Program, at (334) 833-4064, or Mark Sasser, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, at (334) 242-3469.
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