International Paper announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved its habitat conservation plan for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. This plan is the most ambitious ever approved under the federal Endangered Species Act in which a private landowner will expand and enhance habitat on its own property rather than simply maintaining existing populations.
International Paper will voluntarily increase its responsibility from 18 active red-cockaded woodpecker clusters to as many as 30 clusters. Within its Southlands Forest in Bainbridge, Georgia, it will intensively manage 5,300 acres specifically for the endangered woodpeckers by installing artificial nesting cavities and creating new habitat for nesting and foraging.
The plan, which has the potential to contribute to the recovery of the species, was developed in partnership with state and federal wildlife agencies and the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization that has publicly criticized woodpecker habitat conservation plans in the past.
International Paper believes this conservation plan demonstrates that forests can be simultaneously managed for the ecological values represented by the woodpecker and the economic interests of timber production.
Currently, 18 red-cockaded woodpecker groups on company-owned land in South Carolina, Alabama, and Louisiana face uncertain futures because their populations are too small to ensure long-term breeding success. Consolidating the woodpecker management at Southlands and increasing the population there from 2 to as many as 30 groups may provide a link between two large populations located in the Apalachicola Nat’l Forest and the Red Hills region of Georgia, potentially creating genetic interchange.
“This plan is also breaking new ground,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “It is pioneering the concept of endangered species mitigation banking in the Southeast.” This concept enables International Paper to increase its red-cockaded woodpecker population, in exchange for payments, by assuming the mitigation responsibilities of other landowners who desire land management flexibility at market-driven rates. It is essentially the bargaining between private landowners to satisfy habitat protection laws.