Steward of the land
Cam Lanier bought his Alabama land to hunt quail and ended up helping endangered woodpeckers
It started with quail, and then the woodpeckers upped the stakes.
Cam Lanier owned one large quail-hunting plantation not far from his home in Lanett, Alabama, named Sehoy, and part of another next door, named Enon. But a timber company owned the other section of Enon Plantation.
Then some red-cockaded woodpeckers were discovered on the timber company’s portion of Enon. Since the woodpecker is listed as endangered, the company was concerned it might not be allowed to do as it pleased on the land, and it agreed to sell the land to Lanier, who didn’t hesitate to snap it up.
“So I credit the woodpeckers with letting us put Enon back together,” Lanier said. He was happy to welcome the iconic species. And when U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel told him that the woodpeckers on his land were unlikely to survive without active steps in conservation, he didn’t hesitate then either: “Not on my watch. What do we need to do?” So began a decade-long partnership involving dozens of agencies, organizations, and individuals based not on regulations but on trust and cooperation.
Less than a year later, Cam Lanier (full name Campbell B. Lanier III, but he goes by “Cam”) was the first landowner enrolled in the Alabama Red-Cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) Safe Harbor Program. Under a voluntary Safe Harbor Agreement, landowners agree to manage their land in ways that benefit protected species, and in return they will not incur any new restrictions if the population expands. These agreements are popular with forest landowners, recognize the good conservation taking place, and are considered a “win-win” program: species populations (in this case, RCWs) are protected, and the rights of landowners are respected.
“Mr. Lanier’s conservation ethic is unmatched,” said Eric Spadgenske, Alabama state coordinator for the Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.
Lanier’s two plantations near the Georgia-Alabama border, which total several thousand acres (he prefers not to be specific), have been quail-hunting havens for more than 100 years. Enon, which is full of natural springs, is the Greek version of the Semitic word for “natural fountain,” and was the name of the spot near the Jordan River where John the Baptist baptized followers in the Gospel of John. Sehoy was named for an 18th century Creek tribal princess.
At their peak before European settlement, there may have been 1 million to 1.6 million groups (the RCW family unit) ranged from New Jersey to Texas. That number had fallen 99 percent when the woodpecker was listed as endangered in 1968 and the Service started efforts to bring it back. Those efforts have been very successful, due in part to translocation: carefully moving RCWs from large healthy populations to small or new populations in suitable habitat, so they can start a new family group.
New RCW clusters have been successfully established throughout the Southeast; at Lanier’s two plantations, there were 36 active clusters and 33 potential breeding groups found in a 2017 survey. While there is still an aggressive artificial cavity provisioning program at Enon and Sehoy, intensive efforts like translocation are no longer necessary to support the growing population.
As part of the Endangered Species Act process, the Service is evaluating the RCW’s status and will make a recommendation later this year to potentially change its status as a result of conservation successes like those here.
Lanier, chief executive officer of ITC Holding Company, grew up on an Alabama cattle ranch, and his family instilled in him the idea of stewardship of the land, that his responsibility is to look after the land for a short time and then pass it on to the next generation in better condition better than he found it.
“We’ve always been stewards of the land,” Lanier said, referring to his family. “We’ve always been interested in conservation, so it was real easy supporting the woodpecker program.”
Although Enon and Sehoy are safe havens for RCWs, their main use is quail hunting. Lanier is an avid hunter who tries to get out at least every week or two. And he has passed along his love of the outdoors to his four grandchildren: three grandsons in their teens and a five-year-old granddaughter. The three teens not only hunt quail with him but have taken up bowhunting for deer on the land. The Service’s Spadgenske works closely with Lanier and his forest manager, John Stivers, to make sure the land is managed to support both woodpeckers and quail. That includes careful prescribed burning.
“Prescribed burning is the number one tool for habitat management and the woodpeckers here today are benefitting from nearly a century of regular prescribed fire,” Spadgenske said. “As a biologist, it is a treat to visit a property with an abundance of native ground cover, Bachman’s sparrows, and wild quail.”
“As a collateral benefit, a botanist discovered American chaffseed, which is endangered as well, in about a dozen locations at Sehoy plantation. Those are the only known populations of the plant in the state of Alabama,” he added.
“Everything benefits. Quail and rabbits and deer,” Lanier said. “When you manage for quail, all the critters benefit.”