For Immediate Release, June 17, 2014


Justin Augustine, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 302;    

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Black-backed Woodpeckers in
California, Oregon, South Dakota

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit today against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect black-backed woodpeckers in California, Oregon and South Dakota under the Endangered Species Act. The woodpecker is severely threatened by damaging “salvage” logging of burned forests, which provide the dead trees, known as “snags,” the birds need to survive.

Black-backed woodpecker
Photo courtesy USFWS. This photo is available for media use.

“The Endangered Species Act has a 99 percent success rate at saving species from extinction and is the only thing that can save the black-backed woodpecker,” said Justin Augustine, an attorney with the Center. “It took the Endangered Species Act to protect old-growth forests needed by spotted owls and hundreds of other species, and it will take the Act to protect the burned forests needed by these woodpeckers.”

The Forest Service is currently moving forward with three massive logging projects in California that would destroy critical woodpecker habitat. The projects propose to cut old-growth trees simply because the trees are no longer alive, ignoring the fact that snags are as ecologically valuable as live trees because they sustain numerous species. In fact burned forests can be as biologically diverse as old-growth forests when left unlogged; a recent report from the Center for Biological Diversity explains how fires are essential for maintaining biological diversity in California’s Sierra Nevada ecosystem and how logging in burned areas causes significant harm to wildlife and the forest.

Black-backed woodpeckers are habitat specialists that rely on burned conifer forest, often referred to as “snag forest.” Snags are standing dead trees, and when they occur in high densities, such as after moderate and high-intensity fire, they provide nesting space, as well as large amounts of wood-boring beetle larvae for the woodpeckers to eat. For decades the scientific literature has consistently demonstrated the importance of burned forest habitat for black-backed woodpeckers, but legal protections still do not exist to ensure such areas are conserved rather than logged.

“Endangered Species Act protection is urgently needed for this rare and beautiful species,” said Augustine. “We appreciate that the Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized the serious threats these woodpeckers face — especially from intensive logging — but until listing occurs, the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving benefits won’t be available to these birds.”

The black-backed woodpecker is one of 10 species across the country that the Center is prioritizing for Endangered Species Act protection this fiscal year. Under a settlement agreement with the Service that expedites protection decisions for 757 species, the Center can push forward 10 decisions per year. The other priority species for 2014 include the Alexander Archipelago wolf in Alaska, the San Bernardino flying squirrel, the Ichetucknee siltsnail in Florida, Kirtland’s snake in the Midwest, and four freshwater species in the southeastern United Statesm including two fish, a mussel and a crayfish. The species are facing extinction for many reasons, chief among them habitat loss from logging and development, global climate change, pollution, groundwater decline and water overuse. 

Under the landmark settlement, 118 species have already gained Endangered Species Act protection, and another 24 have been proposed for protection.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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