Management techniques for the redcocked woodpecker
The red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) has been listed as an endangered species since October, 1970. This species inhabits pine forests in the southeastern United States where the majority of prime timberland is privately owned. Private ownership of preferred habitat and historically destructive silvicultural practices create unique problems for federal wildlife managers. This report analyzes three management techniques being used to assess and augment red-cockaded woodpecker populations on federal lands in the region, primarily military installations. Seeking cooperation between diverse government agencies, wildlife managers attempt to accurately assess species abundance, alter woodpecker nesting cavities, and construct nest sites in an effort to enhance red-cockaded woodpecker habitat on limited federal holdings in the American southeast.
Key words: Picoides borealis, Global Positioning System, Geographic Information System, cavity trees, cavity restrictors
The red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis) is an endangered species that inhabits pine forests in an historical range from Texas to the Atlantic coast (Jackson, 1986; Reed et al., 1988). Picoides borealis nest in clans or family groups that usually consist of one breeding pair and 2 non-breeding male helpers (Jackson, 1986 ). This group establishes and defends a territory that includes foraging habitat and nesting «cavity trees» (Copeyon et al., 1991; Jackson et al., 1986; Rossell and Gorsira, 1996). Red-cockaded woodpecker clans excavate cavities in living pines, and have established a living and foraging routine in conjunction with the southeastern pine forests and the historical occurrence of fire, which reduces hardwood understory while sparing fire-resistant pines (Jackson, 1986). Much of the prime nesting and foraging habitat for this species has been systematically eliminated due to development, timber harvest and intensive fire suppression (Jackson, 1986). The emergence of dense hardwood understory and midstory as a result of fire suppression in red-cockaded woodpecker habitat has resulted in the abandonment of many otherwise undisturbed areas (Jackson, 1986; Kelly et al., 1993).
The red-cockaded woodpecker has been listed as endangered since 1970 (Federal Register, 1970 as cited by Ertep and Lee, 1994). Four requirements for sustained red-cockaded woodpecker populations that are lacking in the species historical range are identified as critical to species stabilization and recovery: 1.) Open pine forests with shade tolerant understory controlled by cyclical fire seasons; 2.) Old growth Pinus palustrus aged > 95 years and Pinus taeda aged > 75 years; 3.) Approximately 200 acres for nesting group or clan; 4.) Multiple clans per area to maintain genetic stability and variability (Jackson, 1986). The opportunity to establish or preserve these habitat qualities on private timberland is largely lost due to historical harvest practices and development, and research on expanding populations on federal holdings is the most vital component in red-cockaded woodpecker stabilization and recovery (Jackson et al., 1979a; Jackson, 1986).
Exacerbating the problem of habitat loss due to encroachment and fire-suppression are natural hazards such as hurricanes, pine-beetle infestations and usurpation of red-cockaded woodpecker cavities by other species (Carter et al., 1989; Rossell and Gorsira, 1996). Effects of historically natural hazards are multiplied in the context of a diminished species abundance (Carter et al., 1989; Jackson, 1986).
Land management for wildlife is subject to unique difficulties in the Southeast, as the majority of forested land is privately owned (Jackson, 1986). In western states, approximately 2/3 of undeveloped land is federally administered, making the enactment of widespread management policies feasible, and controversies are apt to center around questions of access and use, rather than the more difficult problems concerned with private property rights.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
This report will focus on the current techniques being explored and enacted to stabilize and increase red-cockaded woodpecker populations on federal lands throughout its previous range. Three areas of concern regarding the red-cockaded woodpecker populations on federal lands interact to define current management practices (Jackson, 1986). Wildlife biologists, foresters, and the military have tested and combined specific techniques involving habitat assessment and identification, cavity alteration, and cavity construction to manage limited habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker on federally administered land (Carter et al., 1989; Copeyon, 1990; Ertep and Lee, 1994). Analysis of specific studies and practices in these three areas serve as a description of the technique for managing limited federal lands for the enhancement and stabilization of red-cockaded woodpecker populations.
HABITAT ASSESSMENT AND IDENTIFICATION
A significant problem associated with the management of red-cockaded woodpecker populations is obtaining an accurate assessment of habitat availability and home range estimates (Ertep and Lee, 1994; Reed et al., 1988). Differences in habitat quality and availability throughout the range of the red-cockaded woodpecker affect population density and the range of foraging and nesting activities within colonies, making general application of population estimators difficult (Reed et al., 1988). This issue was addressed in 1988 during a study to evaluate red-cockaded woodpecker population indices.
Reed et al. (1988) set out to evaluate studies concerning red-cockaded woodpecker population indices and, if necessary, develop a new techniques to more accurately estimate adult population size. Reed at al. (1988) researched the circular scale technique (CST) as described by Harlow et al. (1983) and found that application of this method of population estimation is limited. CST utilizes aerial identification of active cavity tree groups, and encompasses said groups in a 460-m diameter circle that contains as many of the active cavity trees as possible (Harlow et al., 1983 as cited by Reed et al., 1988). While Harlow et al. (1983) and Lennartz and Matteaur (1986) used CST with great accuracy in their study areas, estimating population sizes to between 92 and 95% of the true number, the 1988 study by Reed et al. determined that the technique cannot be used throughout the red-cockaded woodpecker range. Using CST in the Sandhills region of North Carolina underestimated the number of groups in the Reed et al. study population (Reed et al., 1988). In the Reed et al. (1988) study area, red-cockaded woodpecker population density and the spatial arrangement of colonies was frequently influenced by habitat fragmentation which led to the violation of assumptions held necessary in the CST method of population estimation (Reed et al., 1988). Conclusions in the Reed et al. (1988) study indicate that CST may be generally used as an index, but further research is necessary to establish a universal technique to estimate red-cockaded woodpecker populations.
The development of sophisticated computer programs and topographical analysis techniques may make assessment of red-cockaded woodpecker habitat and species abundance more accurate and less time consuming (Ertep and Lee, 1994; Reed et al., 1988). These advancements in geographic analysis and terrain assessment technology have provided for an unlikely union between wildlife managers and natural resource agencies on US military installations throughout the southeast (Ertep and Lee, 1994; USMC, 1995). The coordination of Geographic Information System programs (GIS) and Digital Multispectral Videography (DMSV) at Fort Benning, Georgia adds a new technological advantage in the search for red-cockaded woodpecker colonies and habitat by accurately identifying longleaf pine stands (USACE, 1996). Image analysis and confirming Global Positioning System information has been validated in initial tests by the confirmation of three GIS and DMSV-identified red-cockaded woodpecker sites through direct ground observation in the areas (USACE, 1996). Research is ongoing to examine the initial findings associated with these new and highly technical habitat assessment techniques (Ertep and Lee, 1996).
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