The red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act since 1973 primarily due to range-wide habitat loss. With fewer than 20,000 individuals remaining in the wild today, efforts to recover the species have been ongoing across its range since federal listing.
In Alabama, known active RCW populations occur only on four U.S. National Forest districts, private lands in Bullock County, and a remote area south of Birmingham near Lake Mitchell. In 2007, Alabama's Forever Wild Land Trust Program purchased 9,746 acres as an addition to the Coosa Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in Coosa County. This property became the only state-owned property harboring an active RCW population. The RCWs on the Coosa WMA currently represent four of the 13 total active clusters that make up the entire Lake Mitchell population in Coosa and Chilton counties. The remainder of the population occurs on privately-owned land adjacent to Coosa WMA.
Since 2008, the State Lands Division has implemented a recovery plan through management and monitoring of RCWs on the Coosa WMA. It has been funded, in part, through Endangered Species funding. These actions are completed through a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, and Alabama Power Company.
These actions include:
- Performing mid-story removal of hardwood trees in favor of more openly-spaced, mature longleaf pine in and surrounding active clusters to improve forest structure conditions for nesting and foraging.
- Regularly implementing prescription burns throughout the tract to maintain/enhance diverse herbaceous ground-cover while keeping woody shrubs and trees from encroaching.
- Installing artificial cavity inserts at active and inactive cluster sites to provide ample nesting and roosting cavities to offset loss of existing cavities by natural causes and to "recruit" birds to new areas near active clusters to increase/grow the population.
- Monitor population as specified in the RCW Recovery Plan to measure success of management actions and guide future habitat management decisions.
As a result of these continued actions, there has been measurable improvement of habitat conditions and increased numbers of active RCW clusters seen on Coosa WMA since 2008.
The expected benefits and long-term objectives of this project are to not only increase the Lake Mitchell RCW population to a sustainable level, but also to improve and expand the mountain longleaf pine habitat for RCWs and other wildlife in the region. These actions have also directly benefited other imperiled nongame species that are recognized as Greatest Conservation Need Species such as Bachman's sparrow, coral snake, eastern slender glass lizard, and spotted skunk.
Many game species also benefit from these management actions such as fox squirrel, wild turkey, and Northern bobwhite. Management occuring on Coosa WMA is contributing to a larger collective effort by different stakeholders responsible for the stewardship of the Lake Mitchell population, including both state and private entities that work closely together in consultation with the USFWS to maximize success.