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For Immediate Release, May 3, 2012

Contacts:  Chad Hanson, John Muir Project, (530) 273-9290 or       
Karen Coulter, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, (541) 385-9167
Justin Augustine, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 302 or
Duane Short, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, (307) 460-0514 or

Federal Petition Filed to Protect Black-backed Woodpeckers in California, Oregon and South Dakota

SAN FRANCISCO— Four groups filed a petition under the federal Endangered Species Act Wednesday to protect two small and genetically distinct populations of the black-backed woodpecker, one in Oregon/California and the other in South Dakota. The woodpeckers are threatened by destructive Forest Service fire-management practices that allow for too much “fuels-reduction” and post-fire “salvage” logging of the forests the birds call home.

The woodpecker populations, in Oregon’s eastern Cascades and California’s Sierra Nevada mountains as well as the Black Hills of South Dakota, need “snag forest habitat” to thrive — large areas of dense, old conifer forest that have recently experienced high levels of natural tree mortality from wildland fire or native bark beetles. Such forests contain numerous standing dead trees, known as snags, which the woodpeckers rely upon for nesting and their favorite food, beetle larvae. A common misperception is that snag forests have no value for wildlife when, in fact, many animals depend on them to survive.

“Current science tells us that ‘snag forest habitat’ created by fire and native beetles is not only perfectly natural but is also one of the most species-rich and ecologically important habitat types in our western conifer forests,” said Dr. Chad Hanson, an ecologist and black-backed woodpecker expert living in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. “Unfortunately, the U.S. Forest Service has utterly failed to provide protections for this habitat, causing species dependent upon it, like the black-backed woodpecker, to become very rare and threatened due to logging, fire suppression and landscape-level forest thinning.” 

“Black-backed woodpeckers don’t deserve to have their homes chopped out from under them. There’s no excuse for continuing to wipe out the habitat of this beautiful bird. Endangered Species Act protection will help make sure the Forest Service doesn’t let timber companies raze trees that are sustaining precious wildlife,” said Justin Augustine, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Current evidence indicates that both black-backed woodpecker populations are dangerously small — fewer than 1,000 pairs in Oregon/California and only about 400 pairs in the Black Hills. Available habitat is likewise extremely scarce: Just 2 percent of the forests within the woodpecker’s range in Oregon/California are currently suitable habitat, and only about 5 percent of forests in the Black Hills are suitable. Moreover, the great majority of this limited habitat is unprotected and therefore open to logging and other destructive activities.

“Landscape-scale logging to eliminate high-intensity fire needs to stop to allow for the biodiversity that wildfire creates and sustains,” said Karen Coulter of the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project. 

Said Duane Short of the Wyoming-based Biodiversity Conservation Alliance: “Recent science suggests we need to rethink current forest management. These patches of tree mortality from beetles and fire are not only natural, they are also ecologically beneficial and essential for black-backed woodpeckers and many other wildlife species.”

The four conservation organizations filing the petition were the John Muir Project, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity.

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