The most protected bird on Fort Benning is not a colonel.
It’s the red-cockaded woodpecker. And on Friday a proposal was announced to remove it from the endangered species list by federal officials.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Army Alex Beehler, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith, and other diverse partners representing decades-long collaborations, made the major announcement on an historic conservation milestone involving the bird.
It is a significant moment for Fort Benning conservation because millions of dollars have been spent over the years protecting the bird, which is about the size of a cardinal and lives into thickly populated pine forests.
It’s been on the endangered species list since 1970, after generations of industrial and other activity reduced its habitat, and thus, its population.
But concerted efforts by a range of agencies and organizations – among them actions by U.S. military installations including Fort Benning – have helped increase the bird’s population, the officials said during the open-air ceremony at the Campbell King Horse Bowl here.
“Once abundant from New Jersey to Florida, west to Texas and north to Missouri, the red-cockaded woodpecker’s range had dwindled to just a handful of states by the 1960s, following more than a century of habitat loss. In the late 1970s, there was an all-time low of an estimated 1,470 clusters (or groups) of red-cockaded woodpeckers. Today, thanks to Endangered Species Act-inspired partnerships and the commitment of countless landowners, agencies, states and stakeholders, there are an estimated 7,800 clusters ranging across 11 states, from southern Virginia to eastern Texas.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proud to announce today that the red-cockaded woodpecker has flourished to the point where today we can propose to downlist them from endangered to threatened, under the Endangered Species Act, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith.
“This shows the Trump administration’s commitment to conservation. This is something that we have worked in partnership with the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture and about 20 other organization to be able to reach the status of this endangered bird being now down listed because of all the conservation work through partnerships in order to make this amazing event happen.,” Skipwith continues.
A decade ago as Fort Benning was spending billions to build up for the moving of the Armor School to the post, the bird’s federally protected status created a number of environmental issues.
The Red-Cockaded Woodpecker is a beautiful small bird and the downlisting ensures that future generations can enjoy the species.
Skipwith says the partnerships had recovery goals for the bird to be downlisted. However, with their efforts including adding bird boxes to their habitat, they’ve “blown past” their goals to downlist the bird. Now they’re working towards delisting.
“So we will continue to work with our partners, still continue to put that conservation work on the ground to reach that level of delisting saying tit no longer needs the protection of the Federal government because it is now biologically recovered,” Skipwith answered.
There are about eight Army bases and about four Air Force bases that habitat the bird.
There are over 1600 species that are listed as either endangered or threatened, the Fish and Wildlife Service is working with other installations to move those species off the list.