Groups call to halt removal of protections for red-cockaded woodpeckers

Endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers are already facing habitat loss due to climate change. (© Beth Maynor Finch)

Shortly after President Biden took office, his administration released an executive order directing agencies to engage in science-based decisionmaking and to reconsider decisions from the past four years that are inconsistent with science and protecting our environment. SELC just sent a letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service calling on the agency to halt its efforts to remove protections for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

This letter, sent in conjunction with Defenders of Wildlife, supplements an initial set of comments we filed in December 2020 on behalf of a broad coalition of conservation groups detailing concerns with the agency’s proposed downlisting of the species from endangered to threatened. Those initial comments highlighted how a variety of climate change impacts threaten the species—including increasingly frequent and more severe storm events. The new letter builds on those concerns, showcasing how the red-cockaded woodpecker also faces significant habitat loss due to warming temperatures.

Current status of red-cockaded woodpecker recovery populations.

SELC's latest comments explain how the agency has failed to account for these climate change-caused threats to the species, as well as noting how agency policies contrary to science-based decisionmaking may have influenced the proposal—including the Southeastern Region of FWS’s goal to delist, downlist, or preclude the need for listing 30 species per year.

This quota system, known as the WIG or “wildly important goal,” incentivizes decisions on species statuses based on meeting an arbitrary quota rather than evaluating a species’ status using the best available science, as required under the Endangered Species Act.

“The Service needs to take a serious look at the best available science, including climate change impacts, which shows the red-cockaded woodpecker needs continued protections to guard against extinction,” says Staff Attorney Ramona McGee. 

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