FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Vicki M. Boatwright or August 14, 1996 Diana M. Hawkins GEORGIA STATEWIDE HABITAT CONSERVATION PLAN PROTECTS RED-COCKADED WOODPECKERS AND PRIVATE LANDOWNERS
A proposed first-of-its-kind habitat conservation plan for endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers will be presented by the State of Georgia to the Department of the Interior on Tuesday, August 20, in Savannah.
Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt and Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Lonice C. Barrett will announce the plan, which would allow landowners from across the state to participate in efforts to increase survivability of these woodpeckers and receive certainty about future development activities.
"The proposed statewide habitat conservation plan is another innovative way in which the Administration is using the flexibility of the Endangered Species Act to conserve wildlife while addressing the needs and concerns of small landowners," Secretary Babbitt said.
The statewide habitat conservation plan provides all landowners in the state, regardless of the size or location of their red-cockaded woodpecker population, with the opportunity to sign a safe harbor agreement with the Department of Natural Resources.
The "safe harbor" program, announced by the Interior Department's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in February 1995, allows a participating landowner to attract red-cockaded woodpeckers to his or her land without incurring liability for those birds under the Endangered Species Act should the landowner decide to develop the property at a future date. At present, 20 landowners are participating in the program in the North Carolina Sandhills area, some of the best remaining red-cockaded woodpecker habitat under private ownership in the Southeast.
In addition, landowners who harbor isolated groups of red- cockaded woodpeckers can participate in the species' recovery by contributing juvenile and adult birds from their lands to protected populations on Federal, state, or other private lands.
These birds, located on private lands in 19 counties in southern Georgia, are demographically isolated and therefore contribute minimally to woodpecker recovery, according to theService. The landscape they inhabit is dominated by agriculture, rural woodlots, and short-rotation timber management and, thus, is generally unsuitable for long-term red-cockaded woodpecker survival. At the same time, the presence of the woodpeckers on these lands is often incompatible with the forest management or other land management objectives of the private landowners.
"The State of Georgia is proud to be the first state to submit a statewide habitat conservation plan for a protected species, and we hope it will be a model that other states can follow," said Barrett. "The plan demonstrates Georgia's deep commitment to the conservation of its wildlife resources and its willingness to work in partnership with the Department of the Interior and others to meet that commitment," he said.
Working over a 3-year period with a coalition of interest groups, including conservation groups, state wildlife and forestry agencies, forest product companies, research facilities, and Federal agencies, the State of Georgia and the Service crafted a proposed plan that will help to ensure the survival of the species without unnecessarily burdening landowners.
"This plan responds to the needs both of the birds and the landowners, a 'win-win' situation for everyone," Secretary Babbitt said. "Through landowner cooperation, it rescues red- cockaded woodpeckers that are biologically doomed by sheer lack of numbers and suitable habitat and moves them to locations on Federal, state, and other private lands where they have a real opportunity to thrive. It allows landowners to continue to reap the economic benefits of their land while actively helping to conserve the species," he said.
The red-cockaded woodpecker was listed as endangered in 1970 under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act. Once abundantly found in the southeastern United States, this unique bird now occupies only about 1 percent of its original range.
Red-cockaded woodpeckers make their home in mature pine forests averaging 70 to 120 years old. They are the only woodpeckers that excavate their cavities in living pine trees. The red-cockaded woodpecker plays a vital role in the intricate web of life of southern pine forests. A number of other cavity- nesting birds and small mammals use the vacated nest cavities excavated by red-cockaded woodpeckers, including chickadees, bluebirds, other woodpecker species, fox squirrels, flying squirrels, and several species of reptiles and amphibians.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that 15 recovery populations are required to delist the species. A recovered population will require 400 to 500 groups of red-cockaded woodpeckers. Two of these populations are located in Georgia. Of the approximately 660 red-cockaded woodpecker groups that survive in Georgia, 440 are on Federal property, 218 are on private property, and 2 are on state lands.
"While it is clear that recovery of the red-cockaded woodpecker will take place primarily on public lands, private landowners play a crucial role in the process," said the Service's Southeast Regional Director, Noreen K. Clough."Private landowners continue to protect important red-cockaded woodpecker populations; they are helping to increase the size of existing populations; and, as in the case of Georgia's statewide habitat conservation plan, they are supplying birds for recovery populations and for other state, Federal and private populations," she said.
The proposed plan will be published in the Federal Registerin early September 1996 and public comments will be accepted for 30 days from the date of publication. The Southeast Regional Director Noreen K. Clough will then make a determination whether to issue a permit to Georgia's Department of Natural Resources under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act, authorizing the "take" of red-cockaded woodpeckers incidental to otherwise lawful activities.
The Department of Natural Resources will administer the plan statewide for all private landowners who meet the criteria for participation in the plan and are willing to undertake the activities identified in the plan to conserve the species. This will eliminate the need for participating private landowners to develop separate habitat conservation plans for the woodpecker for their lands and to apply to the Fish and Wildlife Service for individual HCP permits.
Participants in the development of the proposed Georgia statewide habitat conservation plan, in addition to the Interior Department's Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the Georgia Forestry Commission, are The Nature Conservancy of Georgia; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District; Union Camp Corporation; Georgia Wildlife Federation; International Paper Corporation; Georgia Farm Bureau; Rabolli Environmental; the University of Georgia School of Forest Resources; Tall Timbers Research, Inc.; the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center; the Fort Benning RCW Project; Fort Stewart; USDA Forest Service; and several consulting foresters and biologists.
The presentation of the Georgia statewide habitat conservation plan will take place at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, August 20, 1996, at the Wormsloe Historic Site on Skidaway Road, Savannah, Georgia. The public is invited.
1996 News Releases