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Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers in Georgia Relocated to Alabama
November 14, 2007
CONTACT: Mark Sasser
For the first time ever, red-cockaded woodpeckers (RCWs) have been moved onto private land in Alabama in an effort to increase one of the state’s last remaining populations of this endangered species. In the pre-dawn hours of November 9, 2007, a group of biologists from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Alabama Forest Resources Center (ALFRC) gathered at Enon Plantation near Hurtsboro, Alabama. The stage was set for an historic event – the release of seven juvenile red-cockaded woodpeckers that had been captured the evening before at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Federally protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1973, the RCW has suffered dramatic population declines as a combined result of fire suppression and conversion of the once expansive, old-growth, southern pine forests to agriculture, urbanization, and short-rotation pine plantations. Prior to European settlement, RCWs were widespread and locally abundant in the Southeast. By the late 1980s most remaining populations were small, isolated, and declining. Today, Alabama's largest RCW populations are in national forests, but roughly a dozen breeding pairs are known to persist on private land in just four counties – Bullock, Chilton, Coosa, and Russell. These small populations will not survive without significant habitat management because RCWs are sensitive to habitat degradation and fragmentation.
Faced with the imminent loss of this species from his property, Enon Plantation landowner Campbell “Cam” Lanier, III entered into a partnership agreement with the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division of the ADCNR, USFWS, and the ALFRC to translocate RCWs to his property.
Located in Bullock and Russell counties, Enon Plantation consists of over 11,000 acres and was originally used for farming and timber. Since the 1920s, quail hunting has been the primary activity on the plantation. Now the prime forestland will also serve as safe harbor for RCWs, which prefer open stands of longleaf and other southern pines. Planning for this historic event began in 2006 with the decision by Lanier to put a plan in motion to save the remnant population of RCWs on his land.
Endangered species recovery, while often centered on public lands, simply cannot be achieved without the contributions of private landowners. “We are fortunate in Alabama to have landowners who use conservation-based management on their properties,” said Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner M. Barnett Lawley. “The partnerships formed by this program are significant in helping recover endangered species such as the RCW.”
Literally overnight, Enon’s remnant population of RCWs was effectively doubled with the release of the seven birds brought in from the large, stable population at Fort Benning. “Everything went perfectly. We could not have asked for better results. This early success is a tribute to the dedication and commitment of all of the partners involved,” said Eric Spadgenske, Private Lands Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “The true measure of success, however, will be in how many of these translocated RCWs enter the breeding population next spring.”
The technique of translocation in wildlife management is nothing new. Noteworthy success stories in Alabama include the white-tailed deer and eastern wild turkey. “The factors that make this translocation of RCWs unique are that we are dealing with an endangered species and private lands – something that has never been done before in Alabama,” said Mark Sasser, Nongame Wildlife Program Coordinator for the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.