Management Techniques for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker on Federal Lands

Topics: Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Picoides, Woodpeckers Pages: 8 (2295 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Management Techniques For The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker On Federal Lands

Sean Fraser

NRM 304


The red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) has been listed as an endangered species since October, 1970. This species inhabits pine forests in the southeastern United States where the majority of prime timberland is privately owned. Private ownership of preferred habitat and historically destructive silvicultural practices create unique problems for federal wildlife managers. This report analyzes three management techniques being used to assess and augment red-cockaded woodpecker populations on federal lands in the region, primarily military installations. Seeking cooperation between diverse government agencies, wildlife managers attempt to accurately assess species abundance, alter woodpecker nesting cavities, and construct nest sites in an effort to enhance red-cockaded woodpecker habitat on limited federal holdings in the American southeast.

Key words: Picoides borealis, Global Positioning System, Geographic Information System, cavity trees, cavity restrictors

The red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) is an endangered species that inhabits pine forests in an historical range from Texas to the Atlantic coast (Jackson, 1986; Reed et al., 1988). Picoides borealis nest in clans or family groups that usually consist of one breeding pair and 2 non-breeding male helpers (Jackson, 1986 ). This group establishes and defends a territory that includes foraging habitat and nesting "cavity trees" (Copeyon et al., 1991; Jackson et al., 1986; Rossell and Gorsira, 1996). Red-cockaded woodpecker clans excavate cavities in living pines, and have established a living and foraging routine in conjunction with the southeastern pine forests and the historical occurrence of fire, which reduces hardwood understory while sparing fire-resistant pines (Jackson, 1986). Much of the prime nesting and foraging habitat for this species has been systematically eliminated due to development, timber harvest and intensive fire suppression (Jackson, 1986). The emergence of dense hardwood understory and midstory as a result of fire suppression in red-cockaded woodpecker habitat has resulted in the abandonment of many otherwise undisturbed areas (Jackson, 1986; Kelly et al., 1993).

The red-cockaded woodpecker has been listed as endangered since 1970 (Federal Register, 1970 as cited by Ertep and Lee, 1994). Four requirements for sustained red-cockaded woodpecker populations that are lacking in the species historical range are identified as critical to species stabilization and recovery: 1.) Open pine forests with shade tolerant understory controlled by cyclical fire seasons; 2.) Old growth Pinus palustrus aged > 95 years and Pinus taeda aged > 75 years; 3.) Approximately 200 acres for nesting group or clan; 4.) Multiple clans per area to maintain genetic stability and variability (Jackson, 1986). The opportunity to establish or preserve these habitat qualities on private timberland is largely lost due to historical harvest practices and development, and research on expanding populations on federal holdings is the most vital component in red-cockaded woodpecker stabilization and recovery (Jackson et al., 1979a; Jackson, 1986). Exacerbating the problem of habitat loss due to encroachment and fire-suppression are natural hazards such as hurricanes, pine-beetle infestations and usurpation of red-cockaded woodpecker cavities by other species (Carter et al., 1989; Rossell and Gorsira, 1996). Effects of historically natural hazards are multiplied in the context of a diminished species abundance (Carter et al., 1989; Jackson, 1986).

Land management for wildlife is subject to unique difficulties in the Southeast, as the majority of forested land is privately owned (Jackson, 1986). In western states, approximately 2/3 of undeveloped land is federally administered, making the enactment of widespread...
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