SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The John Muir Project and the Center for Biological Diversity today submitted a scientific petition to list the black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus) as a threatened or endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act. The protection of this rare woodpecker species is likely to have large-scale implications for post-fire logging policies in California.
Black-backed woodpeckers live primarily in “snag forests,” areas that have experienced high-intensity fires that kill most or all of the trees in some areas. A common misperception is that these areas have no value for wildlife. In fact, many animals preferentially inhabit post-fire forests — and the black-backed woodpecker depends upon burned trees for food and nest sites.
“Just as the spotted owl demonstrated the ecological value of old-growth forests, the black-backed woodpecker is now showing us the importance of post-fire snag forests,” said Dr. Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project, who has done extensive field research on the woodpecker in California.
This species of woodpecker has an entirely black back, which provides camouflage as the bird forages among trees charred by fire. The woodpecker feeds on large quantities of the wood-boring beetles that seek these dead trees, also known as “snags.” The beetles are only found in sufficient densities for several years after a fire, so the black-backed woodpecker depends on regular fires to create new snag-forest habitat.
However, salvage logging after fires and fire suppression in remote backcountry areas have reduced the woodpecker’s habitat to a fraction of what it once was in California. Consequently, the species once described as “numerous” in the state is now considered “rare.” The protection of the black-backed woodpecker under the California Endangered Species Act may have significant implications for salvage logging.
“California’s forestry rules currently contain a loophole that allows post-fire salvage logging to essentially occur unchecked, which allows the destruction of vital habitat for the black-backed woodpecker and other species,” said Justin Augustine, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “State-level endangered species protection for the woodpecker will help close that loophole.”
While the species has a wider range across mature forests in North America, the current population of black-backed woodpeckers in California is estimated at fewer than 300 pairs.
A copy of the petition can be downloaded at www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/black-backed_woodpecker/index.html, while a recent report by Dr. Hanson on the ecological importance of post-fire snag forests can be viewed at www.johnmuirproject.org.