North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

 

Background

 

The North Carolina state-wide Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) Safe Harbor Agreement (SHA) became effective in October 2006.  It was developed to address both the conservation needs of the RCW in the State of North Carolina and the concerns of North Carolina's non-federal property owners.

The agreement covers all non-federal lands within the State of North Carolina that are east of NC Highway 29 and Interstate 85 excluding those portions of Moore, Harnett, Cumberland, Hoke, Scotland, and Richmond counties treated within the Sandhills Safe Harbor Program (see map to the right).

 

Objectives

  1. Protect landowner’s property rights, and
  2. Maintain or increase the number of RCW groups on non-federal land

 

Benefits for Private Landowners

  1. Reduces legal uncertainty from having Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (RCWs) on your land,
  2. Limits impact of insect outbreaks (e.g., pine tip moth and southern pine beetle) and diseases (e.g., fusiform rust and root rot) to your pine forests,
  3. Reduces risk of wildfire,
  4. Increases health and merchantability of your pine trees,
  5. Enhances eligibility for cost sharing to implement proper longleaf pine habitat management,
  6. Creates ideal recreational and hunting conditions

 

Benefits to RCWs

  1. Restores or enhances suitable nesting and foraging habitat,
  2. Reduces forest fragmentation,
  3. Increases habitat corridors crucial for population connectivity,
  4. Protects the longleaf ecosystem and the many additional rare species from extinction, including more than 30 plant and animal species

 

 

Management Requirements

 

In order to accomplish the goals and objectives of this Program,  all Agreements must incorporate one or more of the following conservation strategies or measures in order to provide important benefits to Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) populations. 

Note: All management activities with the potential to affect RCWs should only be conducted by qualified professionals with appropriate state and federal permits.

Prescribed Fire

NCWRC can enroll a property owner under a SHMA if the property owner agrees to maintain or increase the use of prescribed fire under any of the following circumstances once the property is enrolled:

  1. By conducting prescribed fires on a regular or recurring basis within the occupied RCW habitat areas of the property and continuing to maintain or enhance the areas through the use of such fires.
  2. By conducting prescribed fires on a regular or recurring basis within those areas of the property that are potentially suitable nesting or foraging habitat in order to restore or enhance the areas as RCW habitat.
  3. By conducting prescribed fires on a regular or recurring basis in areas of the property that are unsuitable RCW habitat for a period of time sufficient for the areas either to become occupied by RCWs or to become potentially suitable nesting or foraging habitat for RCWs.

 

Forest Management

NCWRC can enroll a property owner under a SHMA if that property owner agrees to maintain or implement a forest management strategy or plan on the enrolled property that would provide the required foraging and/or nesting habitat for RCWs. In general, this would entail the use of timber harvest rotations of greater than thirty (30) years for foraging habitat and greater than sixty (60) years for nesting habitat, the use of uneven-aged silvicultural treatments, and/or the integration of other management activities (e.g., burning or hardwood control), which are necessary to maintain the open, mature pine forests that are preferred by RCWs. An eligible forest management strategy or plan would include a property owner agreeing to include one or more of the following in a SHMA:

  1. Implementation or maintenance of a forest management strategy or plan that maintains or enhances occupied RCW habitat.
  2. Implementation or maintenance of a forest management strategy or plan that maintains or enhances existing habitat that is potentially suitable nesting or foraging habitat.
  3. Implementation or maintenance of a forest management strategy or plan that restores habitat to a condition that will, in the future, provide potentially suitable nesting or foraging habitat.

Hardwood Midstory Control

NCWRC can enroll a property owner under a SHMA if that property owner agrees to control hardwood midstory encroachment in pine forest stands on the enrolled property through one of the following methods:

  1. Mechanical or chemical methods or prescribed fire to control hardwoods in occupied habitat.
  2. Mechanical or chemical methods or prescribed fire to control hardwoods in potentially suitable nesting or foraging habitat.
  3. Mechanical or chemical methods on a regular or recurring basis to control hardwoods in habitat that is currently unsuitable for RCWs.
  4. Lawn mowing methods to maintain herbaceous understory in pine forest stands on the enrolled property.

RCW Cavity Installation and Maintenance

NCWRC can enroll a property owner under a SHMA if that property owner agrees to install artificial cavities and/or maintain natural or artificial cavities on the enrolled property. The property owner would agree to maintain suitable cavities by installing restrictor plates and/or artificial cavities, which include cavity inserts and/or drilled cavities on the enrolled property. A property owner should only use restrictor plates on natural cavities if there is a known problem with cavity entrance enlargement or if there is a good possibility, based on past experience, that cavities might be damaged. The property owner would agree, under the appropriate circumstances, to do one or more of the following:

  1. Install restrictor plates and artificial cavities in occupied clusters that are cavity deficient (i.e., each RCW present does not have its own complete cavity in which to roost).
  2. Install restrictor plates and artificial cavities on the enrolled property so that each cluster would have a minimum of four (4) suitable cavities.
  3. Install and maintain artificial cavities at appropriate sites in potentially suitable, unoccupied nesting habitat with at least four (4) suitable cavities installed per site.

 

 

 

 

 

RCW Population Management

NCWRC can enroll a property owner under a SHMA if that property owner agrees to translocate RCWs onto their property. Translocations are an important population management tool for small or disjunct populations and should be used only in conjunction with aggressive management of nesting and foraging habitat. The use of translocation for any purpose requires a permit from NCWRC and the Service, and must be conducted according to the guidelines in the RCW Recovery Plan, 2nd Revision. RCWs eligible for translocation are generally sub-adult females that have not yet bred at their natal (original) cluster, but depending on circumstances, could be any age or sex.

Future Conservation Measures

There may be a time in the future when the Service identifies a conservation measure(s), based on future RCW research, that is critical to the conservation of the RCW. In such event, NCWRC and the Service would allow enrolled property owners, with concurrence from both NCWRC and the Service, to choose such conservation measure(s) as their voluntary RCW management action(s). The selection of any such measure(s) would provide an immediate net conservation benefit to RCWs.


How to Enroll

Any non-federal property owner with land that currently is, or that has the potential to be, an upland pine environment, and who is willing to provide a net conservation benefit to Red-cockaded Woodpeckers (RCWs) may enroll.

A property owner wishing to enroll their property in a SHMA with NCWRC should follow these
recommended steps:

  1. Contact and meet with the NCWRC to discuss the terms and conditions of the Agreement;
  2. Determine your RCW baseline.
  3. The property owner should develop a SHMA with NCWRC designed to beneficially manage their property for RCWs by implementing measures that are sufficient to meet the provisions and intent of this Agreement;
  4. Both NCWRC and the property owner must sign the SHMA for it to be valid;
  5. Once NCWRC and a property owner sign the SHMA, the property owner will be issued a Certificate, which contains the property owner’s authorization to take above baseline RCWs and habitat, and provides other regulatory assurances.

 

What is a Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW)?

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) is a federally endangered bird that inhabits mature pine forests across the southeastern United States. The RCW needs help to survive because it lacks a sufficient amount of suitable habitat. It is one of eight species (types) of woodpeckers in North Carolina and the only species of woodpecker that excavates a cavity in living pine trees instead of dead ones.

What is the North Carolina Red-cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program?

The North Carolina Red-cockaded Woodpecker Safe Harbor Program is a state program authorized through an agreement between U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). The agreement allows WRC to enter into voluntary Safe Harbor Management Agreements with non-federal landowners who agree to implement land management techniques that benefit RCWs in exchange for regulatory assurances that no additional ESA restrictions will be imposed as a result of their management actions. Landowners decide whether or not they want to participate in the program and a management agreement can be terminated with a 60-day written notice to WRC.

Who can participate?

Any non-federal landowner (private, corporate, state, or county) in North Carolina whose property is east of NC Highway 29- Interstate 85 and falls outside the boundaries of the NC Sandhills Safe Harbor Program is eligible to enroll in the program. A property must either currently have RCWs using it or have the potential to support RCW habitat. Properties owned by WRC are not eligible for the program but other state-owned properties will be considered.

Why is the Safe Harbor Program important?

Conservation efforts on non-federal lands can boost RCW numbers by providing habitat buffers around established RCW populations, by linking isolated RCW populations, by providing young RCWs to boost other populations, and by protecting valuable habitat.

How does the Safe Harbor Program benefit landowners?

The use of a land tract by RCWs brings with it some land use restrictions under the ESA. Many landowners are fearful that their land management actions may result in the use or increased use of their property by RCWs. The Safe Harbor Program benefits landowners by providing regulatory assurances that no additional land use restrictions will be imposed as a result of their management actions. Landowners enrolled in the Safe Harbor Program may make any lawful use of their property as long as they fulfill their baseline responsibilities and complete any other agreed upon habitat management.

What are baseline responsibilities?

Baseline responsibilities are a condition of the Safe Harbor Management Agreement between WRC and a landowner. Landowners agree to maintain and/or enhance RCW cavity trees and foraging habitat that exists on their property at the time an agreement is signed.

What types of habitat management benefit RCWs?

RCWs need older pine forests that have an open midstory and a grass-dominant understory for nesting and finding food. Many previously occupied nesting sites (called ‘clusters’) have been abandoned by RCWs because of hardwood encroachment into the midstory and overstory. This encroachment transforms open, pure pine forests preferred by RCWs into dense pine-hardwood forests that the birds do not like.

Landowners can remove and control hardwood encroachment by using prescribed fire on a recurring basis, by applying chemicals to vegetation, or by mechanically removing hardwoods and/or shrubby vegetation. Landowners can also plant longleaf pine and lengthen timber rotations to grow the older pine trees preferred by RCWs. In addition, landowners are encouraged to thin overstocked stands to create and maintain a more open pine forest preferred by RCWs.

Can I enroll in the program if my property currently has no RCWs?

Yes. A property does not have to currently have RCWs using it and in this case, the landowner has no baseline responsibilities. However, the property should have the potential to provide suitable RCW habitat. Landowners will be required to implement habitat management on the property that creates or maintains suitable RCW habitat. WRC will determine whether or not proposed habitat management is suitable for the program.

Can I terminate the agreement?

Termination of a management agreement results in a loss of the regulatory assurances and the RCW incidental take authority provided to a landowner by the agreement. A landowner’s RCW responsibilities will return to those outlined in the RCW Recovery Plan (2003).

Can I sell my land? Are these agreements transferable?

Yes, you can sell or transfer your land to another owner. If ownership is transferred, WRC will honor the agreement. The new owner must willingly sign the original agreement or a new mutually agreeable one to receive the benefits. Transfer of ownership requires a 30- day written notice. If the new landowner does not wish to participate in the Safe Harbor Program, then the agreement may be terminated.

Is financial and/or technical assistance available?

A landowner is solely responsible for funding and completing all agreed upon habitat management activities. However, WRC can provide technical assistance whenever possible and will provide financial assistance for certain activities when funding is available. This assistance is not guaranteed. Financial and technical assistance is also available from other sources; for example, other government agencies, private consultants, and private groups. WRC can help landowners in finding and acquiring this assistance.

What are the steps to develop a management agreement?

First, you must contact the RCW Safe Harbor Biologist. Second, you provide information such as a map of the property and proposed management activities or land uses. Third, WRC will make a site visit. Fourth, WRC or an agreed upon consultant will determine the baseline responsibilities. Finally, the coordinator will work with you to develop a Safe Harbor Management Agreement.

For More Information

Thank you for your interest in the North Carolina Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) Safe Harbor Program! 

For more information, please contact:

John P. Carpenter
NC RCW Safe Harbor Program Coordinator
NC Wildlife Resources Commission
Phone: (910) 742-7231
Email: john.carpenter@ncwildlife.org