(WASHINGTON) - Responding to the dramatic rediscovery of the
woodpecker at the
Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas,
Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today
announced a multi-year, multi-million-dollar partnership effort to aid the
rare bird's survival. The bird has been thought to be extinct in the United
States for more than 60 years.
"This is a rare second chance to preserve through cooperative conservation
what was once thought lost forever," Norton said. "Decisive conservation
action and continued progress through partnerships are now required. I will
appoint the best talent in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and local
citizens to develop a Corridor of Hope Cooperative Conservation Plan to
save the Ivory-billed woodpecker."
The "Corridor of Hope" refers to the Big Woods of Arkansas, an area about
120 miles long and up to 20 miles wide in eastern Arkansas where the
Ivory-billed woodpecker has been sighted.
The Interior Department, along with the Department of Agriculture, has
proposed that more than $10 million in federal funds be committed to
protect the bird. This amount would supplement $10 million already
committed to research and habitat protection efforts by private sector
groups and citizens, an amount expected to grow once news of the
rediscovery spreads. Federal funds will be used for research and
monitoring, recovery planning and public education. In addition, the funds
will be used to enhance law enforcement and conserve habitat through
conservation easements, safe-harbor agreements and conservation reserves.
"Finding a species once thought extinct is a rare and exciting event, and
USDA is pleased to be a partner in the effort to protect Ivory-billed
woodpeckers," Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns said. "At the same time,
we understand that habitat conservation can impact landowners. That's why
we're going to reach out to work cooperatively with stakeholders so we can
all share in the joy of this discovery."
The action by Secretary Norton and Secretary Johanns came in response to
news from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Nature Conservancy, and other
members of the Big Woods Conservation Partnership that they had collected
primary and secondary evidence of the bird's existence in the Cache River
National Wildlife Refuge. The primary evidence consists of video footage,
while the secondary evidence consists of seven eye-witness sightings and
audio evidence of the Ivory-billed woodpecker. In addition, recordings of
the distinctive double rap of the bird are still under analysis. After
conducting its own peer reviews of the evidence, the journal Science is now
publishing these findings.
Secretary Norton congratulated Dr. John Fitzpatrick, Director of the
Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Scott Simon, Arkansas State Director of The
Nature Conservancy, for the cooperative, diligent, year-long research of
their teams. Following credible reports of sightings of the bird, a
multi-partner team led by Fitzpatrick and Simon, assisted by the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and the
Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission spent more than a year in the Big
Woods of Arkansas searching for this rare bird. The evidence collected led
scientists to conclude that the Ivory-billed woodpecker is now present in
the Big Woods of Arkansas.
"Our next step to recover the bird must be as patient and thoughtful as the
collection of evidence to confirm the existence of the bird," Norton said.
"As we learn more, we will adjust our cooperative management effort."
The Ivory-billed woodpecker, the largest woodpecker in the United States,
is the second largest in the world and had been one of six species of birds
in North America thought to be extinct. Prior to this recent rediscovery,
there had been no confirmed sightings of the bird in more than 60 years.
After consulting with Governor Mike Huckabee and other officials at the
federal, state and local levels, the Interior Department will appoint
members to a Corridor of Hope Cooperative Conservation team. Sam Hamilton,
Regional Director for the Southeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, will lead the team.
Secretary Norton also announced that the Department will appoint technical
experts to assist the conservation team in writing a recovery plan. The
team will include Dr. Jim Tate, Science Advisor to Secretary Norton and a
noted ornithologist, and David Mehlman, Director of the Migratory Bird
Program at The Nature Conservancy.
The Corridor of Hope and recovery teams have nine assignments. They will:
• Help develop and implement plans for local
citizens to participate in writing a recovery plan that maintains historic
public uses of land while protecting the bird's habitat.
• Provide information for the consultation
process required under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act to ensure
that actions by federal agencies conserve endangered species.
• Provide information to private landowners on
the voluntary conservation activities provided for in Section 10 of the
Endangered Species Act.
• Help develop and implement plans to manage
visitor access. Response to the rediscovery is expected to trigger
increased interest from bird enthusiasts and researchers. The conservation
team will carefully evaluate management actions for public access to ensure
opportunities to see the areas where the bird has been sighted and to
facilitate research without jeopardizing its survival.
• Recommend to Secretary Norton others from
local, state and federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, conservation
groups hunting and fishing groups as well as private landowners who should
be included in the recovery planning effort.
• Make recommendations for habitat that needs
to be conserved through conservation easements, safe harbor agreements,
purchase from willing sellers or other means.
• Help develop research and monitoring
protocols. The recovery team will also reexamine previous credible reports
of sightings in its historic range over the last few decades.
• Develop recommendations for the best use of
federal funds being allocated to aid the bird's recovery, utilize the
Cooperative Agreement with the State of Arkansas under section 6 of the
Endangered Species Act and work with private partners to integrate federal
funds with private funds as part of an overall recovery plan.
• Develop effective communications tools,
including the Internet, to inform bird enthusiasts, hunters, anglers, and
others about significant developments related to the presence of this bird
and its ultimate recovery.
The conservation efforts to be established for the benefit of the
Ivory-billed woodpecker will emphasize working with local citizens and
private landowners. The Interior Department will invite them to help
develop the multi-year recovery plan that maintains historic public uses of
land while protecting the bird's habitat.
The recovery plan will adjust to emerging knowledge of these rare birds,
their activities and habitat. Priority will be placed on developing a
long-term plan that integrates federal, state, local and private resources.
Recovery efforts will utilize partnerships, safe harbor agreements,
easements and land purchases from willing sellers.
Through its cooperative conservation initiative, the Fish and Wildlife
Service has a variety of grant and technical aid programs to support
"These programs are the heart and soul of the federal government's
commitment to cooperative conservation," Norton said. "They are perfectly
tailored to recover this magnificent bird. Just as innovation and
partnership are recovering whooping cranes that were nearly extinct, I am
hopeful that by working together, a secure future lies ahead for the
Cooperative conservation, a cornerstone of the Bush Administration's
environmental protection policies, exemplifies a new environmentalism
focused on performance, partnerships, innovation and incentives to achieve
the Nation's environmental goals. The programs preserve millions of acres
of habitat, improve riparian habitat along thousands of miles of streams
and develop conservation plans for endangered species and their habitat
across the country.
President Bush recently issued an executive order directing that federal
agencies that oversee environmental and natural resource policies and
programs promote cooperative conservation in full partnership with States,
local governments, tribes and individuals. Local involvement is critical to
ensuring successful, effective, and long lasting conservation results.
In addition to attracting the Ivory-billed woodpecker, the "Corridor of
Hope," including the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, is home to 7
endangered species and 265 species of birds--over a quarter of the U.S.
total. Some 80 percent of the fish species in the lower Mississippi River
Valley inhabit the waters in the area, which also boasts thousand-year-old
Tupelo and Cypress trees.
The refuge remains open to visitors. However, while determining the
appropriate level of use, refuge managers have, on an interim basis,
established a 5,000-acre managed access area in the 65,000-acre refuge. The
Fish and Wildlife Service has established five access points for refuge
visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of the woodpecker. The Service is
working with refuge partners on the construction of viewing towers to make
viewing easier. In addition, the Fish and Wildlife Service has increased
its law enforcement presence in the refuge to ensure protection of the
refuge's resources, including the rediscovered bird.
The Ivory-billed woodpecker has been admired by birders and for many years.
Hoose, in his book titled The Race to Save the Lord God Bird, wrote that
many who have observed the bird, from John James Audubon to President
Theodore Roosevelt, have nicknamed it "Lord God bird" and "Good God bird."