Red-cockaded woodpeckers (Dryobates borealis) are listed as endangered in the United States under the Endangered Species Act. About the size of a northern cardinal, the red-cockaded woodpecker has very narrow habitat requirements. They are the only southeastern woodpecker to excavate their roost and nest cavities exclusively in live pine trees. They require pines at least 60 years old but prefer 80 to 100-year old pines infected with red heart fungus. This species cannot persist in the long-term without suitable cavity trees and adequate foraging habitat.
Because the red-cockaded woodpecker’s habitat requirements are so narrow, land use restrictions imposed by the Endangered Species Act to protect the species make it difficult to encourage private and other non-federal landowners to manage for the species. As a solution, LDWF partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create a Safe Harbor Program to encourage landowners to manage their pine timberlands for the benefit of red-cockaded woodpeckers while reducing their fear of having an endangered species on their property.
Through this program, private and other non-federal landowners enter into Safe Harbor Management Agreements with LDWF, committing to management activities to enhance, restore, or maintain habitat, contributing to the recovery of the red-cockaded woodpecker. In return, landowners receive official assurance that they will not be subjected to increased restrictions on the use of their land if their conservation efforts attract more red-cockaded woodpeckers to their property. Our goal is to incentivize landowners for managing for endangered species on their property and help them keep endangered species management activities in balance with their forest management and land use objectives.
Safe Harbor Program
Under LDWF’s Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program, the Safe Harbor Managememt Agreements identify:
- Any existing red-cockaded woodpeckers (the baseline number) and associated habitat on the property
- Management activities that the landowner commits to to improve red-cockaded woodpecker habitat on the property
- A timetable for implementing and maintaining management activities.
Qualified personnel experienced in red-cockaded woodpecker surveys survey the property when it is enrolled in the program to determine the baseline number of red-cockaded woodpeckers (and their associated foraging habitat) on the property. This number can be zero and must be approved by LDWF and the USFWS.
When a landowner signs their Safe Harbor Management Agreement, they agree to manage for and maintain this baseline number of red-cockaded woodpeckers and their associated foraging habitat. If the number of red-cockaded woodpeckers on the property increases after the agreement is signed due to management activities, the landowner is held not responsible for any new woodpeckers above the baseline number and is permitted to remove their cavity trees and associated foraging habitat. If a landowner chooses to remove the trees and habitat, they must give LDWF a 60-day written notice so LDWF and/or the USFWS can attempt to capture the affected woodpeckers and relocate them to a recovery population.
Landowners agree to use one or more of five habitat management strategies that help conserve red-cockaded woodpeckers:
- Forest management
- Hardwood midstory control
- Prescribed burning
- Red-cockaded woodpecker cavity installation and maintenance
- Red-cockaded woodpecker population management.
There are a number of cost-share programs available to help fund management activities which benefit red-cockaded woodpeckers:
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry’s Forestry Productivity Program provides financial assistance for establishing and improving a crop of commercially valuable trees. Technical assistance and 50% cost-sharing are available for site preparation for natural regeneration and pine seedling planting.
Hardwood Midstory Management
- LDAF’s Forestry Productivity Program provides financial assistance for establishing and improving a crop of commercially valuable trees. Technical assistance and 50% cost-sharing are available for controlling competing vegetation.
- LDAF’s Forest Land Enhancement Program provides cost-sharing up to 75% for pre-commercial thinning and chemical control of invasive species.
- LDAF’s Forestry Productivity Program provides financial assistance for estalbishing and improving a crop of commercially valuable trees. Technical assistance and 50% cost-sharing are available for prescribed burning of longleaf stands.
- LDAF’s Forest Land Enhancement Program provides cost-sharing up to 75% for prescribed burning.
General Wildlife Habitat and/or Longleaf Pine Restoration
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program provides cost-sharing up to 75 percent for implementing conservation practices on eligible agricultural land.
- NRCS’s Healthy Forests Reserve Program is a cost-share program for approved conservation practices which restore habitat for threatened or endangered species.
- NRCS’s Longleaf Pine Initiative is a cost-share assistance program for longleaf pine restoration.
- USFWS’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program provides technical and financial assistance to private landowners to restore habitat for federal trust species, including the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
The management activities associated with LDWF’s Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program benefit a host of other wildlife species that live in mature pine habitat, including bobwhite quail, eastern wild turkey, Louisiana pine snake, and gopher tortoise, just to name a few. Managing for red-cockaded woodpeckers also promotes healthy mature pine stands, which have exceptional value in the pole and saw timber market. With careful planning, red-cockaded woodpecker management and profitable timber harvest can be compatible uses of a forested tract. Red-cockaded woodpecker management activities also result in an open understory which may allow for further economic benefit in pine straw raking.