Thursday, March 08, 2001

Beetles' destruction forces rare woodpeckers from state

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        PIKEVILLE, Ky. — An infestation of beetles has killed so many pine trees in the Daniel Boone National Forest that the endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers living there have lost their homes.

        Southern pine beetles, rice-sized insects with voracious appetites, have killed 85 percent to 90 percent of pine trees on the federal forestland and threaten the remaining evergreens. That puts the rare woodpeckers at risk because they nest only in live short-leaf pine trees.

[photo] The red-cockaded woodpecker has lost up to 90 percent of its habitat in the Daniel Boone National Forest because of the Southern pine beetle.
(U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service photo)
| ZOOM |
        Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said about 15 of the birds living in the Daniel Boone will be captured and moved to the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge in South Carolina and the Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas.

        “The decision to relocate the woodpeckers was a very difficult one for us to make,” he said. “However, the Southern pine beetle has destroyed the habitat, and we have no other choice but to remove the woodpeckers before the start of their breeding season to allow them to successfully breed in a healthy environment.”

        Biologists from the Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources will begin trapping and relocating the endangered birds next week.

        Ben Worthington, supervisor of the Daniel Boone, said the Forest Service was unable to control the pine beetle epidemic, which took hold in December 1999.

        “Initially, we were very optimistic that much of their habitat could be saved,” he said. “However, the beetle literally outran us.”

        Mr. Worthington said the decision to relocate the birds has been especially hard on the employees and volunteers who have devoted years to re-establishing the red-cockaded woodpecker to the Forest Service land in Kentucky.

        Once the birds are removed, Kentucky will have no known red-cockaded woodpeckers remaining.

        Environmentalist had used the endangered birds in their arguments against logging on federal land in Kentucky.

        Bruce Murphy, assistant judge-executive in McCreary County, said environmentalists who have hampered the Forest Sevice's management practices must shoulder much of the blame for the loss of the birds.

        Mr. Murphy said lawsuits by environmentalists kept the Forest Service from taking actions to save the pines, and, thus, the woodpeckers.

        “It seems that every time the Forest Service makes a decision, it's challenged in the courts,” Mr. Murphy said.

        Andy Mahler, a member and former director of Heartwood, a 20-state forest protection group, said poor management by the Forest Service is to blame.

        “The sad thing is that while the pine beetle has clearly had an impact, the real cause of this decline is the rampant exploitation of the Daniel Boone over the past 40 years,” he said. “If the Forest Service had been managing the forest for wildlife instead of for timber, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now.”

        Mr. Hamilton, in a letter to Kentucky wildlife Commissioner Tom Bennett on Monday, said managers of the forest first looked at relocating the birds to other areas of Kentucky, but no suitable tracts could be found. In addition, Mr. Hamilton said, the birds are more easily relocated to areas with existing populations.


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