The red-cockaded woodpecker was first listed as an endangered species in the Federal Register on October 13, 1970. By the late 1980s the bird had rapped its way into a major issue on national forests in east Texas. There, in 1988, a federal judge determined that agency management policies violated the Endangered Species Act and ordered several hundred miles of road closed to protect the birds. In his June 1988 ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Parker also issued a ban on clearcut logging within three-fourths of a mile of red-cockaded woodpecker colonies on 200,000 acres of Texas' eastern national forests.
Threatened with further legal action and court orders, in 1989 the U.S. Forest Service agreed to stop clearcutting pine forests in nine other southern states in an effort to spare the bird's dwindling habitat. The rare woodpecker, which is slightly smaller than a robin, nests inside living pine trees, and subsists on a diet of insects, became increasingly imperiled as clearcut logging and other developments fragmented its habitat. Intensive biological surveys of the woodpeckers and their critical pine forests documented population declines. These, in turn, spurred an overhaul of Forest Service policies in order to comply with federal regulations, such as the National Forest Management Act and Endangered Species Act, designed to prevent species from becoming extinct on national forests and other lands.
Within a month of the Forest Service decision to halt clearcutting, the timber industry's National Forest Products Association appealed the change, contending that red-cockaded woodpeckers were adequately protected with existing measures. Although the woodpecker controversy attracted media attention as a case of "jobs vs. environmental protection," environmentalists noted that alternative, selective logging methods could actually create more jobs even as they spared potential nest and forage sites for birds.
The Forest Service, for its part, pledged to revise management guidelines that would protect red-cockaded woodpeckers and their habitat, as well as allow for continued harvesting of southern pines.
"Forest Plan Appealed," Southwest Times Record (Fort Smith, AR), April 5, 1989, photocopy.
"Red cockaded woodpecker driving grown men to tears," Washington Times, September 2, 1988, photocopy.
U.S. Forest Service red-cockaded woodpecker press release, untitled, undated [March 27, 1989].
"Forest Service: forest service plan to protect the endangered red coc," [sic] UPI Texas State Wire Newstab, September 30, 1988.
"Forest Service: forest service under the endangered species act unles," [sic] UPI Texas State Wire Newstab, January 16, 1989.
Dawson, Bill, "Groups threaten suit over timber, woodpecker issue," Houston Chronicle, January 16, 1989, (photocopy from U.S. Forest Service public affairs office).
Simpson, Bob, "Endangered woodpecker needs major protection," Raleigh News & Observer, January 22, 1989, (photocopy from U.S. Forest Service public affairs office).
Record of Correspondence released by The Republican National Committee, November 3, 1956.
Author: David G. Havlick, special projects staff, Forest History Society