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Posted: October 26, 2017 12:01 p.m.
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Woodpeckers fly strong

Courtesy photo/

From left, DPW Fish and Wildlife Branch Chief Tim Beaty; Fort Stewart Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Conroy; Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield garrison commander Col. Jason Wolter; and DPW Fish and Wildlife Branch Planning and Monitoring Section Chief Larry Carlile show off a red-cockaded woodpecker artificial cavity in a RCW cluster in the woods of Fort Stewart's training area.

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Several years ago, Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Anthony Cucolo, who was then commander of the 3rd Infantry Division was so impressed and proud of the red-cockaded woodpeckers living in the pine forests of Fort Stewart, he jokingly asked if there was a way to put Marne patches on their wings.

Fast-forward to today, and the red-cockaded woodpecker population on Fort Stewart is still flying strong. The garrison command team, Col. Jason Wolter and Command Sgt. Maj. Martin Conroy, recently spent time with the Directorate of Public Work’s Fish and Wildlife branch catching juvenile RCWs to be translocated to small populations that need a little help.

“This is another great example of Team Stewart making a difference,” said Conroy. “The Fort Stewart Fish and Wildlife Branch has been leading the way in the Southeastern United States with their conservation program of the red-cockaded woodpecker. Due to their hard work, we have been exporting juvenile woodpeckers to neighboring regions for the last couple of years to form new breeding pairs and assist in the species’ comeback.”

Tim Beaty, chief of the Fish and Wildlife Branch, said there are more than 500 active clusters in Fort Stewart’s training area. A cluster is a collection of trees with holes where a family of woodpeckers sleeps every night. There are 480 potential breeding groups within those clusters, which means that there are at least two birds in the cluster.

“We surpassed our population goal of 350 PBGs in 2012, removed all restrictions on military maneuver, and took off all the signs and markings, so Soldiers training on Fort Stewart are now free from all the previous distractions associated with RCW protection,” Beaty said. “So because of our continuing good habitat management practices, the population has continued to grow without training restrictions.”

Although training is no longer affected by the birds, the federal Fish and Wildlife Branch still has to be consulted about any construction in the training area that could impact the birds or other endangered species, Beaty said.

“The consultation process can be time-consuming, but because our population is large and still growing, it would be very unlikely that consultation with the FWS would prevent a training support action from moving forward,” he said.

Fort Stewart’s management of the red-cockaded woodpeckers has been so successful that seven juvenile birds (three males and four females) were moved to Cheeha Combahee Plantation in South Carolina, Beaty said. The odd female will go to a cluster currently occupied by a bachelor male.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service holds a meeting with donor and recipient RCW populations every August in Tallahassee to allocate birds that are available for translocation to the properties that are most in need,” he said. “Only juvenile RCWs--birds about five months old--are made available for translocation; we don't move adults. There is always more demand for birds than there are birds to go around.”

The FWS recovery coordinator makes the final decisions on where birds are placed. He is also told how many birds the installation has available for relocation, Beaty said.

“We just tell him how many birds we can provide without over-burdening our logistical capabilities or risking harm to our own population,” he said. “That's usually about 10-12 pairs. This year it's 11 pairs plus the single female.”

The success of the RCW management program is thanks to habitat management—controlled burns, artificial cavities, and forest thinning—which not only results in a landscape that makes the birds happy, but also leads to better training space for Soldiers, Beaty said.

 

“All in all, the forest is in a condition that more closely resembles what it looked like when European settlers arrived hundreds of years ago,” he said. “That means that other animals that make their homes in the longleaf forest are also thriving, so there's less risk of more species being added to the endangered list.”


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