For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Justin Augustine, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 302,
Chad Hanson, John Muir Project, (530) 273-9290,

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Rare Black-backed Woodpeckers in California, Oregon, South Dakota

SAN FRANCISCO - The Center for Biological Diversity and the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute today filed a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the agency’s failure to protect black-backed woodpeckers under the Endangered Species Act.

The Center petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service in May 2012 to protect the species, and the agency then issued a positive finding, acknowledging the need to conduct a full review to assess the status of the woodpecker in two regions, California/Oregon and the Black Hills of South Dakota. But Fish and Wildlife has yet to complete the required review. 

“Endangered Species Act protection is urgently needed for this rare and beautiful species,” said Center Senior Attorney Justin Augustine. “We appreciate that the Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized the serious threats these woodpeckers face — especially from intensive logging — but until listing moves forward, the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving benefits won’t be available to these birds.”

Black-backed woodpeckers are habitat specialists that rely on burned conifer forest, often referred to as “snag forest.” Snags are standing dead trees, and when they occur in high densities, such as after moderate and high-intensity fire, they provide nesting space as well as large amounts of wood-boring beetle larvae for the woodpeckers to eat.

Unfortunately this habitat type is regularly destroyed by post-fire logging, which removes the dead trees the woodpeckers need for survival. The great majority of this limited habitat is unprotected and therefore open to logging.

“The ESA is the safety net for species like the black-backed woodpecker whose habitat is still largely unprotected,” said Dr. Chad Hanson with the John Muir Project. “For decades now, the science has consistently demonstrated the importance of burned forest habitat for black-backed woodpeckers, but legal protections still do not exist to ensure such areas are conserved rather than logged.”

Just this year the Forest Service has proposed three massive logging projects in California that would destroy critical woodpecker habitat. A recent report produced by the Center for Biological Diversity and the John Muir Project explains how fires are essential for maintaining biological diversity in California’s Sierra Nevada ecosystem and how logging in burned areas causes significant harm to wildlife and the forest.


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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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