Agencies Join Forces to Host Red-cockaded Woodpecker Short Course

Short course participants examining a red-cockaded woodpecker cavity tree. Photo by Arthur Perkins, DESCO Environmental.
Short course participants examining a red-cockaded woodpecker cavity tree. Photo by Arthur Perkins, DESCO Environmental.

This spring, U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station wildlife biologist Cory Adams joined forces with Cliff Shackelford  from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Robert Allen from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to teach 16 individuals from 5 consulting firms about the red-cockaded woodpecker, a federally listed endangered species found in fire-maintained mature pine forests throughout the southeastern United States.

Red-cockaded woodpeckers are unique among North American woodpeckers because they excavate their roost cavities in living pine trees. They are cooperative breeders which live in family groups consisting of a breeding pair and often one or several helpers. In 1968, the species was listed as endangered in the United States, and with the passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 received legal protection. Today, biologists throughout the Southeast work to recover the red-cockaded woodpecker on public and private lands.

The objective of the short course was to cover the natural history, ecology, and regulatory aspects of the red-cockaded woodpecker, other declining species such as the Louisiana pine snake and the Bachman’s sparrow, and rare plant communities also found in mature pine forests of eastern Texas and western Louisiana.

The course consisted of a classroom portion and a field portion. Classroom presentations focused on the basic biology and ecology of the red-cockaded woodpecker and other species found in mature pine forests, how to determine the activity status of woodpecker cavities and trees, and the regulatory requirements of the species’ management. The second half of the short course consisted of field trips to four sites on the Angelina National Forest with red-cockaded woodpecker populations.  At these sites participants were shown how to determine suitable habitat, assess the status of red-cockaded woodpecker cavities and trees, and identify other plant and animal species found in the same habitat.

Throughout the United States, construction projects affect areas that are important for a variety of plants and animals, including the red-cockaded woodpecker. Oil and gas exploration on Forest Service lands has increased since the discovery of a shale gas deposit in eastern Texas. Often consulting firms are responsible for assessing the impacts these projects will have on species in the area. By having a better understanding of the biology and ecology of the red-cockaded woodpecker and other sensitive plants and animals, consultants can make recommendations that could alleviate negative impacts to these species and their habitat.

For more information, email Cory Adams at coryadams@fs.fed.us.

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