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 percent 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.