The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced a proposal to remove protections for red-cockaded woodpeckers as an endangered species and reclassify it as merely threatened. SELC and a broad coalition of conservation groups have just filed official comments in opposition, highlighting that the move is unjustified and suffers from a number of legal inadequacies.
Over the course of decades of federal protection and oversight, scientific research, and intensive management, populations of the species have steadily grown. But the species still remains at risk of extinction due to numerous threats, including ongoing habitat loss, climate-change impacts like severe storms, and southern pine beetle infestations, and others.
In the submitted comments, SELC says, "The improvements in red-cockaded woodpecker numbers and management is a testament to the power of the Endangered Species Act. But the Fish and Wildlife Service is poised to throw away those hard-earned strides by prematurely claiming victory and removing critical protections and oversight for red-cockaded woodpeckers.”
According to the Service’s own science and recovery planning, the species has not met necessary targets to remove endangered protections. Given recent rollbacks to the Endangered Species Act regulations, reclassifying the red-cockaded woodpecker to threatened means the species would not receive any protections against take, except for whatever the Service includes in a species-specific rule. Here, the Service’s proposed rule would fail to provide for future conservation and recovery of the species as required by the act.
And the reclassification and proposed rule would also be detrimental to the bird’s native pine forest habitats.
“Beyond being an iconic species for our region, conservation for red-cockaded woodpeckers has long served as an umbrella of protections for our southern pine ecosystems,” says Staff Attorney Ramona McGee.
We know the Service ignored the best available science, failed to prepare a prerequisite status review to inform its decision, and did not consider the combined effect of the many threats facing the red-cockaded woodpecker for the foreseeable future, as required by its own regulations.
For more on why this proposal is premature and unjustified, read our submitted comments here.