Red-cockaded Woodpecker Recovery
The red-cockaded woodpecker is the only woodpecker in the U.S. that excavates cavities in living pines. The drastic loss of mature pine forests over the past 200 years has been the primary cause of this species’ decline. Habitat for these woodpeckers now occurs primarily on military bases, national forests and other public lands, although populations remain on a number of private properties.
In 1999, Georgia DNR developed the nation’s first statewide Red-cockaded Woodpecker Habitat Conservation Plan to provide management options for private landowners. The plan includes options for mitigated take and Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor is targeted at landowners in southwest Georgia, where plantations managed for the northern bobwhite also support a significant population of red-cockaded woodpeckers. Safe Harbor involves a landowner’s commitment to beneficially manage habitat for the baseline number of woodpecker family groups on a property at the initiation of the agreement. In exchange, the landowner’s responsibility will not increase if the woodpecker population increases.
In Georgia, 156,997 acres are enrolled in Safe Harbor management agreements covering 105 baseline groups of woodpeckers and supporting 32 surplus groups. Most of these properties are in the Red Hills Region near Thomasville, an area that supports the largest population of red-cockaded woodpeckers on private lands. Since the inception of Safe Harbor in 2000, the Red Hills population has grown from about 175 family groups to more than 190. In cooperation with the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center, a successful effort is underway to restore the red-cockaded woodpecker population at Ichauway Plantation in Baker County. This 29,000-acre property supported a single male in 1999. Through the translocation of 64 young birds, the property now supports 22 family groups.
In 2008, the acquisition of 8,432-acre Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area near Bainbridge became the first state-owned property supporting this species. The tract contains extensive stands of mature longleaf pine habitat where today 21 red-cockaded woodpecker family groups are found. Through the more frequent use of controlled burning, installation of recruitment clusters and careful forest management, the tract can eventually sustain about 50 family groups.