For Immediate Release
May 20, 1998

Contact: Diana M. Hawkins


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's red-cockaded woodpecker recovery coordinator, Ralph Costa, has been named the 1998 recipient of the Chuck Yeager Award — a prestigious award presented annually by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to recognize individuals for superior on-the-ground natural resource conservation achievements. A $15,000 grant accompanying the award is directed to one or more conservation projects selected by the award winner.

According to Foundation Executive Director, Amos Eno, the conservation challenge presented by the red-cockaded woodpecker in the southeastern United States, several years ago, was predicted to rival that of the Spotted Owl in the Pacific Northwest. "The woodpecker inhabits old growth pine forests that have been declining rapidly, particularly on private lands," Eno said, noting that there were grave concerns that the species would have a major impact on timber harvest and development in the southeast. "Now, just a few years later," he said, "the outlook for the red-cockaded woodpecker represents one of the greatest about-faces in conservation history." He added that Costa is one of the people most responsible for this remarkable achievement.

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Ralph Costa, USFWS
Costa is recognized, perhaps more than any other practitioner, Eno said, for helping to develop new approaches and fine-tuning existing strategies for Endangered Species conservation on private lands. He has made particularly good use of a new conservation tool called "Safe Harbor." This federal initiative encourages private landowners to improve management for endangered species in return for protection against any federal action associated with future impacts on the endangered species that might benefit from the improved management. Safe Harbor agreements thus provide willing landowners with a mechanism that encourages conservation without incurring liability.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service's Southeast Regional Director, Sam Hamilton, Costa's bold and enterprising leadership that is helping to save the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker tells the story of how success comes to those who explore new paths, procedures and approaches to attain a goal." Costa has done a superb job implementing Safe Harbor plans for the red-cockaded woodpecker," Hamilton said. "He has enrolled nine private landowners in Habitat Conservation Plans that benefit the species and has organized six statewide conservation coalitions in Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Virginia, and Georgia to develop red-cockaded woodpecker conservation plans; with North Carolina and Florida planning to follow suit." In South Carolina alone, he said, Costa has enrolled in Safe Harbor agreements 15 private partners, who manage more than 84,000 acres of habitat with 145 woodpecker family units.

Costa has also helped establish woodpecker management and recovery guidelines for military installations, the National Wildlife Refuge System, and national forests. Hamilton added that Costa has been particularly successful building partnerships with the forest products industry and other corporate landowners and has crafted either "no take" memorandums of agreement or safe harbor agreements with Georgia-Pacific, Hancock Timber Resources Group, Westvaco, Champion, Potlatch, Gulf States Paper, International Paper, and Norfolk Southern Railroad. To date, and in total, these agreements and the statewide conservation plans have protected 171,500 acres of private land habitat and 420 groups of red-cockaded woodpeckers, 43 percent of the groups known to exist on private land, Hamilton said.

Expectations are high, based upon other pending and draft conservation agreements that within the next 1-2 years an additional 100,000 acres, or more, of private land and 200-300 groups of birds on private land will be enrolled in conservation partnerships with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The award is named for American test pilot and United States Air Force officer Chuck Yeager, whose career exploits epitomize foremost scientific and technical achievement. Yeager is best known for being the first aviator to fly faster than the speed of sound. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is a national nonprofit grant-making organization dedicated to the conservation of natural resources — fish, wildlife and plants. The Foundation was established by Congress to leverage federally appropriated funds by forging public and private partnerships which result in conservation activities that pinpoint and solve root causes of environmental problems. Since 1985 the Foundation has awarded 2,366 grants totaling more than $100 million in federal funds. These grants have been matched by non-federal dollars to pump more than $287 million into vital conservation projects nationwide.

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 more than 94 million acres of land and water consisting of 514 national wildlife refuges, 65 national fish hatcheries, 38 wetland management districts with waterfowl production areas, and 50 wildlife coordination areas. The agency also enforces Federal wildlife laws, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat, such as wetlands, administers the Endangered Species Act, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts


Release #: R98-037

1998 News Releases

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