Press Release | September 25, 2020

SELC Statement on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Announcement to Downlist the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

ATLANTA – Today, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) released the following statement in response to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announcing plans to downlist the red-cockaded woodpecker.

“The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s proposed downlisting announced today could reverse decades of hard work for this iconic and endangered bird,” said Ramona McGee, SELC Staff Attorney. “Today’s announcement is poised to set a dangerous precedent of claiming victory too early and without scientific support, leaving this species without the management it critically needs to succeed.”

“Not only does the agency’s approach announced today remove protections for this iconic and rare Southeastern bird while ignoring evidence, it has largely excluded the public from the process,” said McGee. “The Service’s proposal seeks to give leeway to military installations to conduct some activities that could kill or harm red-cockaded woodpeckers in populations that have been key to growing the species over the past decades. We have consistently called on the Service to engage in an open and transparent process grounded in the best available science, providing the public and species experts the opportunity to evaluate relevant data and weigh in on the issue.  Instead, the Service appears to want to claim another ‘recovered’ species, but claiming recovery versus actually achieving recovery are two very different things.”

“Over the past four years, the Trump administration has worked tirelessly to gut long-standing protections for endangered and threatened species, from large scale rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act to ignoring science and claiming recovery prematurely for imperiled species.”

When the Endangered Species Act was signed into law in 1973, the red-cockaded woodpecker population was estimated at 10,000 individuals after much of its longleaf pine habitat was destroyed due to logging and fire suppression. Although the red-cockaded woodpecker’s population is slowly rebounding, populations are still in extremely isolated clusters. Federal protections are critically important for this species and for the special Southeastern pine forests upon which it depends.

In August 2018, the agency announced a formal status review for red-cockaded woodpeckers, as required every five years under the Endangered Species Act. Despite making no announcements or releasing a final status review to the public in the past two years, the Service is prepared to downlist the species. Public records obtained by SELC previously showed that the Service was asking other state and federal agencies to help make the case to remove all federal protections for the species—a move the Fish and Wildlife Service has failed to show is supported by science, as required under the Endangered Species Act.

Assessments show that the bird’s habitat, already severely diminished by development, have faced further blows from major hurricanes that have hit the region in recent years. Public records also contain new information about recent severe storm impacts from hurricanes Florence and Michael, reiterating the need to maintain the species’ longstanding protections.

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