Red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) populations have greatly reduced throughout their range due to loss of suitable habitat. Their drastic decline in numbers led to RCWs being listed as endangered in 1970, entitling it to federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The majority of all active RCW clusters occur on public lands, but throughout the RCW range, an estimated 23% are located on private lands, so conservation of RCWs on private lands is important to the species' recovery.

To encourage landowners to protect habitat for RCWs, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, has implemented a Safe Harbor program in the state. Safe Harbors are intended to foster cooperation of landowners, and benefit both endangered species and landowners simultaneously. Under a Safe Harbor agreement, landowners agree to manage their land in a way that is expected to benefit RCW populations, but will not incur any new restrictions if RCW populations expand beyond the baseline level that exists on the property when the agreement is signed. The baseline level can even be zero if potential RCW habitat is present but no RCWs exist on the land. Landowners retain all private property rights and management flexibility. Land managers are encouraged to use prescribed burning, hardwood mid-story control, pine thinnings, and longleaf pine restoration to improve land for RCWs. These management techniques help maintain a healthy southern pine forest while also benefiting other desirable species such as Northern bobwhite. Safe Harbor agreements have been very popular with forest landowners in other states, and are considered a 'win-win' program: RCW populations are protected while the rights of landowners are respected. 

RCW chicks banded for continued monitoring of RCW populations on property enrolled in the Safe Harbor Program.

This endangered species project is intended to continue publicizing and implementing the RCW Safe Harbor program in Alabama to continue to make the program stronger in Alabama. Implementation efforts focus on enrolling additional forest lands and monitoring properties that are currently enrolled in the program. Benefits to the RCW in Alabama include increased protection and expansion of existing populations, establishment of new populations, and expanded suitable habitat for the species. Expected benefits for participating landowners are protection and assurance that they will not incur additional legal restrictions beyond a baseline condition agreed upon when they enter into the agreement. These activities will help contribute to the recovery of this endangered species. Other species of conservation concern that rely on open, mature pine woodlands, such as eastern indigo snake, Bachman's sparrow, gopher tortoise, southeastern pocket gopher, and bobwhite quail, will also benefit from management of red-cockaded woodpeckers on private lands under the Safe Harbor agreement. 

For more information on the RCW Safe Harbor Program in Alabama contact Carrie Threadgill