North Carolina Sandhills Suboffice
Conserving the Nature of America

Information for Private Landowners

Private landowners have different responsibilities than do public land managers for endangered species conservation under Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act. Therefore, private landowners are strongly encouraged to follow general guidelines for red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) management in order to avoid inadvertent destruction of pine habitat supporting red-cockaded woodpeckers and any potential violation of the Federal Endangered Species Act.

The North Carolina Sandhills Sub-office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is responsible for coordinating red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) recovery in the North Carolina Sandhills. Our office promotes conservation, restoration, and ecologically sound management of the Southeast’s longleaf pine ecosystem, the ecosystem upon which RCW recovery depends. The Service works with landowners to protect habitat for the benefit of the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker in support of Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1531-1543) (Act).

The RCW is typically found in mature, fire-maintained pine forests in the southeastern United States. Habitat consists of pine or pine-hardwood stands which include mature trees (60 years and older), and it is in these mature trees that the RCW excavates its cavities for roosting and nesting. Typically the RCW forages on pines ≥ 30 years old. The forage habitat requirement for private land is detailed in the Private Lands Guidelines.

Cavity excavation is a natural process that is ongoing, and there may be newly established, previously undetected cavity trees within pine-forested parcels in the North Carolina Sandhills. Pine tree removal within a cluster and associated foraging habitat, if not carefully conducted is potentially harmful to the species and may violate the Endangered Species Act if not specifically authorized by the Service. For this reason, the Service strongly recommends that cavity tree surveys be conducted prior to any tree clearing if these activities include the removal of pine trees ≥ 8 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh - measured 4.5 feet above ground level). Such surveys should be conducted by personnel experienced in management and monitoring of the species.


Residential lot surveys for RCW activity are strongly encouraged. Please visit our Lot Review Decision Tree document for guidance on how to proceed. Service staff may be available to provide assistance with the surveying of residential lots and individual trees for lots that occur within developments that are currently enrolled in our safe harbor program.


Proposed commercial developments within red-cockaded woodpecker habitat may require a more in-depth review, including preparation of a biological assessment and foraging habitat analysis. Please visit this project review page for step by step guidance.

Cavity Tree Survey Protocol

Procedures for Collecting Forage Habitat Analysis Data


USFWS Customer Service Center - 1-800-344-WILD

Last Updated: December 4, 2020