Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 22, 2014

Contact: Justin Augustine, (415) 436-9682 x 302

Black-backed Woodpeckers on Track for Endangered Species Act Protection in 
California, Oregon, South Dakota

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity reached a settlement today with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that helps push black-backed woodpeckers in California, Oregon and South Dakota closer to protection under the Endangered Species Act. The woodpecker is threatened by post-fire logging of burned forests, which are essential to the existence of these birds; recent research shows that dense stands of severely burned mature forest provide critical habitat for the woodpecker. The Center and allies petitioned for protection of the species in 2012, and in 2013 the Service determined the bird might warrant protection. Under today’s settlement the agency must issue a decision on that protection in 2017.

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

“With the Forest Service logging some of the best black-backed woodpecker habitat in the Sierras right now, this highly specialized species is in immediate need of endangered species protection,” said Justin Augustine, an attorney with the Center. “Thankfully this settlement can help make that happen for this amazing woodpecker, which so many other species rely on too.”

Black-backed woodpeckers are considered a “keystone” species because they are one of the first birds to show up in a forest after the forest burns, and they are uniquely adapted to drill cavities into the burned trees. These cavities are in turn later used by many other species that rely upon them for nesting, denning, roosting and resting.

The Forest Service, however, considers black-backed woodpeckers a nuisance that has the potential to get in the way of cutting down more burned trees, which right now is almost totally unregulated. In fact many federal forest plans in the Sierras encourage the logging of the burned forest that these woodpeckers rely upon, and the Forest Service is currently in the midst of three post-fire logging projects in California that are cutting trees critical to woodpecker survival. 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.

“For decades the scientific literature has consistently demonstrated the importance of burned forest habitat for black-backed woodpeckers,” said Augustine. “But legal protections still don’t exist to ensure such areas are conserved rather than logged. Endangered Species Act protection will change that.”

The two distinct populations ofblack-backed woodpecker are two of 10 species across the country that will receive protection decisions under today’s settlement. The other species include the Alexander Archipelago wolf from Alaska, the San Bernardino flying squirrel, the Ichetucknee siltsnail from Florida, Kirtland’s snake from the Midwest, and four freshwater species from the southeastern United States, including two fish, a mussel and a crayfish. The animals are facing extinction for many reasons, chief among them habitat loss from logging and sprawl, groundwater overuse, climate change and pollution.

Under the landmark settlement agreement reached with the Service in 2011 for 757 imperiled species across the country, the Center can seek expedited protection decisions for 10 species per year. A total of 137 species have already gained Endangered Species Act protection as the result of the agreement, and another six have been proposed for protection.

The Center was joined on the 2012 petition seeking protection for the woodpecker by the John Muir Project, Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.

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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