ENDANGERED SPECIES:

FWS, Army declare red-cockaded woodpeckers 'recovered' at Fort Bragg

A 15-year partnership between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army has led to the recovery of a key population of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers in the North Carolina Sandhills region, the service said today.

The small-bodied woodpecker, which has been endangered throughout much of its range in the Southeast since the early 1970s, saw a 54 percent increase in forests in and around Fort Bragg, one of the nation's largest military installations and the home of 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions.

In 1992, the Sandhills East population of red-cockadeds, divided between Fort Bragg and nearby Camp Mackall, included 238 clusters, or family groups, FWS said. Today that number has increased to 368 clusters, a sufficient threshold to declare the population "recovered" under the Endangered Species Act.

Since 1990, the Army has actively managed more than a hundred active red-cockaded woodpecker sites across the base, including in training areas, and the base is a key recovery area for the Sandhills region.

Fort Bragg also entered a partnership with the Nature Conservancy to fund the purchase of key lands in the Sandhill region that have high conservation value as well as strategic value to the military.

The leading threat to red-cockaded woodpeckers, according to FWS, is habitat loss due to the conversion of vast areas of upland pine forest into commercial and residential development sites. The Army, meanwhile, has sought larger buffer zones around its training facilities to keep the public away from military activities, including live fire exercises.

Over time, FWS and the Army realized they could meet their respective goals by working together, and similar partnerships exist at other Army bases throughout the South, including Fort Benning and Fort Stewart in Georgia, Fort Jackson in South Carolina and Fort Polk in Louisiana. In addition to conserving forest habitat for woodpeckers, the Army has agreed to tailor its training in habitat areas to minimize noise and avoid other harm to the species.

The red-cockaded recovery benchmark at Fort Bragg was achieved five years ahead of schedule, signaling the success of these types of programs, officials with FWS and the Army said.

Addison Davis, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for environment, safety and public health, said Fort Bragg's success at recovering endangered woodpeckers shows that environmental and military training goals can be compatible.

"This recovery validates the success of the Army's ongoing sustainability efforts, demonstrates our commitment to preserve precious natural resources ... and amplifies what we can achieve by working together with community partners," Davis said in a prepared statement.

FWS director Dale Hall credited his staff and the Army, along with several nonprofit groups and hundreds of private landowners, for a partnership that "resulted in a historic step forward in our collective efforts to recover this endangered bird."

Pete Campbell, a FWS biologist and coordinator for the North Carolina Sandhills Conservation Partnership, described the achievement as "a great milestone," but added that groups should continue to work together to ensure the woodpecker's long-term success.

Click here for more on Fort Bragg's woodpecker recovery program.

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