The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the public comment period on revisions to red-cockaded woodpecker protections under the Endangered Species Act.
The red-cockaded woodpecker is currently listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. In October 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to downlist the red-cockaded woodpecker from endangered to threatened. Endangered means a species is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range while threatened means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future, according to the website.
Based on information received during the initial public comment period, the service is proposing a revised 4(d) rule of the Endangered Species Act for the red-cockaded woodpecker, or RCW, to address questions and concerns. Section 4(d) rule allows for regulations to be issued for threatened species.
“Public engagement in our processes is what helps ensure that any final action is based on the best scientific and commercial data available and is as accurate and as effective as possible,” said Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, the service’s regional director, in a statement. “Our partners have helped us get to where we are today with the tremendous growth in RCW population numbers, so we fully invite their participation every step of the way in its recovery.”
For the red-cockaded woodpecker, the revised proposed 4(d) rule would adopt the same prohibitions that apply to an endangered species under section 9 of the Endangered Species Act. It would continue to prohibit take, among other standard activities such as importing and exporting. The prohibitions would apply throughout the species range, on both public and private lands, only if the species is reclassified as a threatened species.
In addition to these prohibitions, the service is proposing several exceptions in the 4(d) rule to allow for routine law enforcement activities, defense of life, the assistance of sick or injured birds, and also to encourage the active habitat management the species uniquely requires, according to the service. It provides new exceptions for incidental take that occurs as a result of conducting prescribed burns, applying herbicides and installing artificial nesting cavities. It would continue to except take associated with activities that are authorized by permits under the ESA, including those associated with Safe Harbor Agreements or Habitat Conservation Plans.
The revised 4(d) rule would also allow employees of state conservation agencies operating under cooperative agreements with the service to take red-cockaded woodpeckers in order to carry out conservation programs for the species.
“Essentially, the revised 4(d) rule would continue to help, not hinder, the implementation of actions necessary to promote conservation of the red-cockaded woodpeckers by providing more flexibility for incidental take that may result from activities that maintain and restore habitat for the species,” according to the service.
To comment, visit the Federal eRulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov. In the Search box, enter FWS–R4–ES–2019-0018, the docket number for this rulemaking. The Service will accept comments received or postmarked on or before March 7. Requests for public hearings must be received in writing by Feb. 18.
Those who have already commented on the proposal to reclassify the red-cockaded woodpeckers do not need to resubmit comments on the reclassification. However, since changes have been made to the proposed 4(d) rule, interested parties are encouraged to review the rule and submit comments accordingly.
Visit Frequently Asked Questions to learn more about the revised 4(d) rule and what it entails.