Protection sought for black-backed woodpecker

The AP has the whole story, with highlighted snips below.

Four conservation groups filed a petition with the U.S. Interior Department on Wednesday to list the black-backed woodpecker under the Endangered Species Act in the Sierra Nevada, Oregon’s Eastern Cascades and the Black Hills of eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota.

In addition to fire suppression, the groups contend post-fire salvage logging combined with commercial thinning of green forests is eliminating what little remains of the bird’s habitat, mostly in national forests where it has no legal protection.

“Intensely burned forest habitat not only has no legal protection, but standard practice on private and public lands is to actively eliminate it,” the petition said. “When fire and insect outbreaks create excellent woodpecker habitat, salvage logging promptly destroys it.”

Chad Hanson, executive director the Earth Island’s John Muir Project based in Cedar Ridge, Calif., filed the petition Wednesday with the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Sacramento. Co-petitioners are the Center for Biological Diversity based in Tucson, Ariz., the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project in Fossil, Ore., and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance in Laramie, Wyo.

Hanson, a wildlife ecologist at the University of California, Davis, said the black-backed woodpecker has been eating beetles in fire-killed stands of conifer forests for millions of years and specifically in North American forests for “many thousand years — since the last Ice Age.”

“Now, it’s very rare,” he said. The best science suggests there are fewer than 1,000 pairs in Oregon and California, and fewer than 500 pairs in the Black Hills, the petition said.

“Such small populations are at significant risk of extinction, especially when their habitat is mostly unprotected and is currently under threat of destruction and degradation,” the document said.

Richard Hutto, a biology professor and director of the Avian Science Center at the University of Montana, has been doing post-fire research since the early 1990s. He said it would be difficult to find a forest-bird species more restricted to a single vegetation cover type than the black-backed woodpecker is to early post-fire conditions.

The California State Fish and Game Commission agreed in December to add the woodpecker to the list of species that are candidates for protection under the California Endangered Species Act. State Commissioner Michael Sutton said a two-year review of the bird’s status is warranted because some Forest Service plans allow “100 percent salvage logging of burned areas, which is the preferred habitat of this species.”

For more information about black-backed woodpeckers, their habitat needs and the ecology of recently burned forests, check out Listen to the Message of the Black-backed Woodpecker, a Hot Fire Specialist from the February 2009 issue of Fire Science Brief from the Joint Fire Science Program.

UPDATE: Here’s a copy of the petition and here’s the press release from the conservation groups.

15 thoughts on “Protection sought for black-backed woodpecker”

  1. “State Commissioner Michael Sutton said a two-year review of the bird’s status is warranted because some Forest Service plans allow “100 percent salvage logging of burned areas, which is the preferred habitat of this species.”

    This statement couldn’t be more wrong! The last salvage project I worked on proposed harvesting 55% of the entire fire. Nor does he mention that ample snags are retained both inside and outside of cutting units within the project areas. The bird is a “Species of Concern”, which, indeed, gives it legal protections.

    For some reason, Hanson continues to claim he is associated with UC Davis, and the University consistently distances themselves from Hanson’s shrill radicalism. When American Indians managed their lands, there were significantly less snags than there are today, on Federal lands, here in California, as well as Oregon. Hanson wants to use the bird to shut down logging, both on public and private lands. In short, there is no lack of habitat for these birds, with fire salvage projects making big concessions to the woodpecker, already.

    • Larry, where’s your stats on your claim:

      “When American Indians managed their lands, there were significantly less snags than there are today, on Federal lands, here in California, as well as Oregon.”

      (Just curious as to who was counting snags between 300 and 10,000 years ago?)

      Are you saying they were methodically cutting down snags? Or were their management techniques precluding the incidence of snags? Makes one wonder how the Black backed woodpecker population was healthy enough to spiral into this present descent into oblivion.

      Something tells me the role of snags were fully understood by Native Americans, who successfully managed these landscapes prior to their genocide for the brief benefit of the European hordes to thoroughly mismanage under the banner of, “Caring for the Land and Serving People”.

      • There are ample descriptions, letters, accounts, log entries, drawings and such, that show more widely scattered, larger trees in those pre-European forests. Also, those forests were longer lived than the lodgepole mixes we have today. Those facts are especially-so, here in California, where Indian-managed pine forests would dominate for centuries. It was quite easy for those residents to create open cathedral-like forests of large ponderosa pines, little in the way of understory, and a carpet of flammable, pungent bear clover. Those forests were extremely resilient to bark beetles, drought and wildfires, resulting in less snags.

        When these forests burn at high intensity, brush like ceanthos and manzanita will dominate for decades, excluding MANY endangered creatures. Are we to dedicate millions of acres solely to feed 1000 pairs of woodpeckers? Does anyone really think that 2000 individuals need, oh…. say…. about 100,000,000 trees (assuming 1 million acres burned, at 100 trees per acre) to feed on, per year? If the woodpeckers survived the decades of truly severe salvage logging, then why do people think that today’s progressive and complex salvage projects are “harming the bird”?

        • Yes Larry, we get it that they managed magnificent, vast stands of old growth over thousands of years only to be razed in short order by the European bipedal invasives.

          But what about the snags? Where’s the evidence that there were less snags then, than now? (Just to be sure, “snags” mean a standing dead tree which most likely got that way as a result of old age, disease, or injury. Right?)

          Your claim that those forests somehow contained less snags than now remains unsupported and frankly, due to the nature of aging is intuitively absurd.

          Old growth (managed or otherwise) will have statistically more snags than typical silvicultural managed stands for obvious reasons: there’s more old trees. The only way there would be less snags in fire managed old growth is if the Natives purposely cut them down.

          There are vast stretches of virgin, (yes, virgin Sharon) unmanaged (yes Larry, et al., unmanaged) old growth forests where I live.

          There are far more snags in the old growth than managed stands for obvious reasons. At least they should be obvious to someone of your background.You are still going to have to provide the evidence of your claim that somehow those vast stands of old growth didn’t die.

          The Natives were unquestionably better at silvicultural management knowledge than their genocidal conquerors, but as far as I know, they didn’t perfect the elimination of lightning, disease, insect, wind and snow load damage.

          • Since there were fewer trees in the Sierra Nevada, and they lived longer than current-day trees. wouldn’t it be logical that there were also less snags than our currently overstocked and unhealthy forests??

            Back to the original topic, again, there is NO lack of snags to support 2000 birds. The real issue for the birds is all about salvage practices on private lands. Federal lands are “snag rich”, and blackbacked woodpeckers have always been rare, due to their feeding habits. The Feds often have complex salvage marking guidelines, saving multiple-sized snags on every acre.

            Once again, David uses the past to block the future, disregarding the big changes that have been made over time.

            • “wouldn’t it be logical that there were also less snags than our currently overstocked and unhealthy forests??”

              Not at all Larry, because part of the reason they are unhealthy is because you have played a direct role in making them that way, and literally have your own axe to grind in order to “save us” from your mismanagement and:

              1)these NFS comparisons are managed for maximum volume per acre, not snags vs. Native management for HABITAT and;

              2) NFS stands have endured successive rotations which have deliberately excluded and otherwise reduced the incident of snags, and resulted in the present unhealthy “overstocked” conditions, and;

              3) the Sierra Nevada, AND Oregon’s Eastern Cascades and the Black Hills of eastern Wyoming and western South Dakota are the actual places we are discussing (not as you state in comment #3, “especially-so, here in California”) and;

              4)you continue to make statements such as “there were fewer trees” which remain TOTALLY unsupported and;

              5) as usual, you resort to ad hominem attacks to support your illogic, such as those directed at me, and Hansen, (ie.”the University consistently distances themselves from Hanson’s shrill radicalism.”(sic)

              Again Larry, WHERE’S THE BEEF? Provide the evidence there were “fewer snags”, provide the evidence the University “consistently distances themselves from Hansen” (sic) and if you can’t, quit wasting our time.

              If you are going to make claims you cannot support, we must conclude you are just using this forum to support your desire in launching personal attacks, obstructing the purpose and need for a better fact-based understanding of the issues — instead of advancing our pursuit of intelligent, well-reasoned, discourse and debate.

              • NOW, who is making unsupported attack statements, David!?!? You are the one blasting everyone who disagrees with your own brand of preservationism, adopting the “either you are with us, or against us” mindset. AND you cannot even tell the difference between Hansen and Hanson! Both are extremists who selectively use science to support political agendas and their own pocketbooks.

                It is academically and historically accepted that there were fewer trees and fewer snags in the Sierra Nevada, as well as in Oregon, where Indian management was much more intensive. Bob Zybach has a great presentation about the Oregon Coast Ranges and interior valleys were very sparse, conifer-wise.

                Back on topic, AGAIN, there is NO lack of habitat, on Federal lands, for sustaining 2000 birds, in Oregon and California. The Feds have already made changes to support these birds.

  2. Birds aren’t hurt by someone being allowed to do something; rather by someone doing something or not doing something. Don’t know how anyone could imply that the FS would do 100% salvage. It sounds fairly unbelievable given today’s budgets, markets and public concerns. Perhaps he was misquoted?

    • “Birds aren’t hurt by someone being allowed to do something”?

      Are you saying the US government was not “allowing” hunters to exterminate, for instance, the passenger pigeon?

      • “Birds aren’t hurt by someone being allowed to do something”?

        Are you saying that the New Planning Rule is not “allowing” a devolution of decision making down to the Forest Supervisor level which may ultimately write off the viability of a bird species?

        Birds at risk due to NFS management activities (like the Black-backed woodpecker, red cockaded woodpecker, spotted owl, northern goshawk, marbled murrelet, and others) got that way by “allowing” those management activities to impact them. Those allowed activities have accelerated climate threats and are exacerbating existing threats to many bird and terrestrial species.

        • The biggest danger to goshawks and spotted owls are catastrophic wildfires, destroying their nesting habitat. Sure, birds survive without nesting habitat but, their populations are not viable. In fact they are listed solely because of the rarity of their nesting habitat. Wildlife biologists fear that wildfire could wipe out that essential nesting habitat. Actual nest trees are essential for their survival, and are re-used over the years. Both the goshawks and owls share the same nesting habitats, and their survival is tied to them.

  3. From the press release:

    “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.” … Chad Hanson

    This is equally wrong, as there are a multitude of places where salvage logging is regulated or eliminated, for various reasons. Allowing “free-range wildfires” in the Sierra Nevada would certainly “rebalance” lands back to bare mineral soil, in ways humans certainly won’t like. Are we to eliminate habitat for birds actually listed, in exchange for the burned forests the woodpeckers like?!?

    There is no lack of snags in the Sierra Nevada National Forests. I’ve seen the evolution of salvage logging from the early 70’s to present day. PLENTY of snags are being left but, they do fall down over the years. Snag patches that the woodpeckers can use are short-lived, sometimes providing dangerous fuels build-ups in advance of a re-burn, which Hanson won’t mention.

  4. Gee, how did the woodpecker EVER survive 100 years of fire suppresion. I gots a feeling there’s gonna be lots of woodpecker habitat within 20 years. Of course, it has nothing to do with the species. You could’t have “bio-engineered” a better poster species for allowing wildfires to burn up the local forest near you. Awhile back I said the enviros need to get a snag species listed so they can “reintroduce” wildfire to the forest.It was so predictable. The pine beetle has rights too!I do love watching them defend dead forests. AS in: “gee people, we can’t log it, but we can burn it.” It does not compute with the public. But then when you can litigate, who cares about the electorate(does that sound to corny?). Someday, Reid, Feinstein, Bingaman, Udall, Tester, Baucus,and whatever other Democrats are gonna figure that out.

    • Derek, you seem to be overlooking your role in an agency which created a large part of the problem in the first place.


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