Pictured above: Regional Forester for the Southern Region of the USDA Forest Service Ken Arney, President, Crowell Forest Resources LLC, 5th generation landowner, Louisiana and FLA Gov’t Affairs Chair, Michael Crowell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith, and USFWS Regional Director, South Atlantic-Gulf & Mississippi Basin Regions, Leopoldo “Leo” Miranda

RCW Downlisting Win-Win for Species and Landowners

Atlanta, GA. The Forest Landowners Association (FLA) commends the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for proposing the downlisting of the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened.’

During the past 40 years of protection for this iconic species, efforts on both public and private lands have led to increasing population numbers for the RCW. Today’s action by the USFWS acknowledges the significant steps towards recovery – a recovery that never would have been possible without the commitment of private forest landowners.

“This success has been decades in the making as a direct result of imaginative, far reaching and heroic efforts of private landowners working with the USFWS to yield significant results for RCW habitat and populations.” stated Scott Jones, FLA CEO. “FLA and our landowners believe the conservation of species and ecosystems is important to society. Forest landowners take immense pride in being stewards of their land — protecting, enhancing this species, all while running the business of growing timber, one of the nation’s most sustainable materials.”

Today, we celebrate forest landowners’ commitment to stewardship and acknowledge the tremendous investments they have made to support the RCW’s recovery. From participation in Safe Harbor Programs to conducting controlled burns, forest landowners across the Southeast have invested their time, energy, money, and hard work to bring these birds back from the brink of extinction. The RCW was listed under the Endangered Species Act upon its passage in 1973, and protecting the birds was one of the first and greatest challenges under the new law. The early days held heavy regulatory burdens and few incentives for landowners. But over time, the USFWS and forest landowners built new lines of communication, new tools to incentivize conservation, and new levels of understanding and trust. FLA’s growing partnership with the USFWS has been an essential component to the shift from controversy to collaboration.

“Soon after listing the RCW under the ESA, the Service took a hard stand in the management of the species that put the conservation of the bird and its habitat on the back burner. Fortunately, the Service was able to learn from these early mistakes and, most importantly, we learned to listen to land managers,” noted Leopoldo Miranda, USFWS Regional Director, South Atlantic-Gulf & Mississippi Basin Regions. “Because of private landowners’ stewardship and love for their lands, we are a step closer to full recovery of the RCW and the hundreds of other species that depend on these habitats. There was a reason the RCW was still living on private lands. The landowners had the birds because they were doing the right things at the same time as keeping their working lands working,” noted Miranda. “FLA has been a great partner in building relationships between the USFWS and forest landowners.”

FLA has facilitated collaborative approaches to species conservation within working forests by gathering and validating insights from critical stakeholders, and identifying approaches that work for forests landowners, while gaining confidence in their management of the resources to ensure forest stewardship. Since 2015 we have been holding meetings and events to engage regulatory officials from the local, state, regional and national levels of the USFWS — building relationships, understanding, and collaboration. FLA’s RCW Summit held in Louisiana in 2019 was a highlight for these meetings, bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders for a forest tour and open discussion of the RCW’s recovery and plans for future opportunities for voluntary, collaborative conservation.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking input from the public on delisting the species. Since conducting the status assessment for the woodpecker, the Service has heard from more than two dozen partners who have been actively conserving habitat for the bird’s recovery.

Forest Landowner Quotes:
The RCW is a species with a long history under the ESA, and we are very encouraged to see it has reached a major milestone in its population status. This could not have been accomplished without the dedication and commitment to restore and maintain its habitat by both the public and private sectors. We appreciate the USFWS for acknowledging the work of private forest landowners in this success story as they consider the proposed downlisting. – Michael Crowell, President, Crowell Forest Resources LLC, 4th generation landowner, Louisiana

The proposed downlisting of the RCW for me is recognition for all private forest landowners’ good stewardship efforts over many years to bring this species back to the point of recovery. Continuing to work collaboratively with the Service will allow for greater understanding of shared goals and needs – and creates this robust win-win for conservation and landowners well into the future.Joe Hopkins, 4th generation landowner, Georgia

About Forest Landowners Association: The Forest Landowners Association represents the economic interests of private forest landowners and their unique natural resource assets. Our members range from large forest businesses whose land has been in their families for generations to those who have become forest landowners because they view forests as a long-term investment. Regardless of property size, our members manage their land with a sustainable approach, ensuring the prosperity of their forests for future generations.

Read the USFWS Press Release and more information on the proposed rule and comment period