RE: FRN# 00-26589, Public Comment on Technical/Agency Draft Revised Recovery Plan for the Red-cockaded Woodpecker (Picoides borealis).
Dear Mr. Costa and RCW Recovery Team Members,
As cofounder and director, I am commenting on behalf of Spirit of the Sage Council (Sage Council) a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to protecting America's Natural Heritage, including our nations biodiversity of plants and animals. While founded in California, the Sage Council has hundreds of members that live throughout the States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Japan. Our members include citizens that reside within the range and distribution of the endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker (RCW) and the Southern Pines Ecosystem (SPE) regions that not only support the needed recovery of the RCW, but are also concerned about their quality of life in regards to recreation, education and other such enjoyment that the SPE provides. As the RCW is negatively affected by the loss of habitat, so are our members.
The Sage Council appreciates all the work that the RCW Team Members and others have contributed towards the conservation of the species. We are well aware of the challenges that the staff of FWS Field Offices face politically and otherwise. The Sage Council has been addressing endangered species conservation issues since 1990, primarily in Southern Coastal California where such politicizing is monstorous and HCP/ITP schemes cancerous. Nevertheless, we believe that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and NEPA must be fully implemented and enforced by the FWS, as enacted by Congress, without compromise in order to provide species recovery and to uphold the public trust placed in the federal lead agency.
The Sage Council has reviewed the Revised Recovery Plan as well as other documents, including 1996 Management Guidelines for the RCW on Army Installations, numerous approved and proposed RCW HCP/ITPs, numerous scientific publications and promotional literature on the "Safe Harbor" private landholder incentive program. We have also met with and interviewed FWS and DOD employees actively working in association with RCW Recovery in North Carolina - General Carl Steiner (Retired Army), Maj. General Roosma (Retired Army), Terry Meyers, Ft. Bragg Endangered Species Division, Peter Campbell, FWS Southern Pines and Ralph Costa, FWS Clemson North Carolina by phone.
In general, our greatest concern regarding RCW recovery is that the FWS has, and continues to, assume that long-term recovery may be accomplished primarily through the management of habitat on federal lands designated as military bases and national forests. The Sage Council disagrees on several accounts.
Therefore, the Sage Council requests that the FWS provide a discussion and address this need for additional RCW recovery on military bases in the final RCW Recovery Plan as a Recovery Task.
Therefore, the Sage Council requests that the FWS provide a discussion and address this need for additional RCW recovery on national forests in the final RCW Recovery Plan as a Recovery Task.
We also recommend that the FWS ensure that the conservation methods and procedures utilized for the RCW are consistent and implemented to the maximum extent rather than at a minimum. Furthermore, such methods and procedures for species recovery must be scientifically sound and not politically motivated.
Therefore, the Sage Council requests that the final RCW Recovery Plan state that there will be such conservation consistencies on Public and Privately Held Lands as a Recovery Task.
The Sage Council strongly objects that the FWS has, and continues to, utilize "Safe Harbor" agreements and/or programs as a scheme to provide incentives to non-federal landholders for the following reasons;
Therefore, the use of "Safe Harbor" is unlawful, arbitrary and capricious when applied to a listed endangered species, such as the RCW. The Sage Council requests that the FWS refrain from the use of "Safe Harbor" schemes and completely eliminate it from the RCW Recovery Plan.
As the FWS is aware, the issue of "Safe Harbor" is currently in the Court and being challenged in association with the Sage Council's legal challenge to "No Surprises". It is very possible that "Safe Harbor" agreements with "No Surprises" assurances to non-federal landholders will become invalidated in the near future.
Currently there are 47 "Safe Harbor" landholder participants in the Sandhills Project Area, Ft. Bragg being the largest area within the Project but not a "Safe Harbor" (SH) participant. The FWS actually holds the SH permit signed by Ralph Costa, USFWS. It includes the individual SH agreements with landholders.
"Landholders agree to let FWS drill cavities and/or place boxes and monitor them - in exchange these landholders receive "No Surprises" assurances that in the future they can "take" RCWs beyond the agreed upon baseline number of birds when they want to develop the habitat or denature the land. Trees for RCWs are tagged, marked and have signage. The FWS cannot recover the RCW through "Safe Harbor" because of the "take" aspect, but it does help to get landholders on key properties to work with FWS in the short term. Hopefully, it will act as a stepping stone to landholders agreeing to conservation easements or acquiring funding for acquisition." (personal interview with Peter Campbell, FWS Southern Pines).
South Carolina has a "Safe Harbor" Agreement and Program for the entire state, as does Texas for the Alpomado Falcon. However, it should be noted that the RCW was not listed under a section 4(d) special rule. The RCW is not a "threatened" species, but endangered. The use of a "Safe Harbor" program and agreement is in violation of the ESA.
"Safe Harbor" agreements contribute to incremental losses of habitat especially in light that mitigation credits are given for RCW population increases - and then such mitigation is reversed and eliminated later when the birds are "taken." Even at a 1:1 replacement ratio and "no net loss" of species it is impossible for the population to increase and be conserved in the long-term.
The Sage Council recommends that the FWS and Recovery team review and become more familiar with our "No Surprises" and "Safe Harbor" legal challenge. The text is available on our website www.sagecouncil.com as well as scientific literature and publications. We make this recommendation in respect to whether the FWS and RCW Recovery Plan will truly be able to provide "Ecosystem Management" as presented in Section H pp. 103-106.
Thus, we are requesting that the final RCW Recovery Plan provide the best scientific information regarding "Adaptive Management" and how such best scientific methods and procedures shall be implemented by the FWS for the RCW in the Recovery Tasks.
The FWS and Recovery Team has a extreme challenge to truly recover the RCW in consideration of the limitations and restrictions that "Safe Harbor" and "No Surprises" agreements have created. It may be necessary for the FWS to not only invalidate agreements and revoke ITPs that have been issued, but to also provide additional habitat lands to conserve and recover the species. This is an aspect of our current legal challenge.
We question the conclusion reached in 3 H. p 106. The Sage Council recommends that the FWS not limit Ecosystem Management by eliminating single-species management. This limitation language is not necessary since it may remain necessary to use all methods and procedures for recovery. While ecosystem management on a large scale and multispecies approach may be preferred, in some instances it may not be attainable.
We object to the scientifically unsound and politically motivated language found throughout Section 4 A regarding "Private Lands". Quite frankly it is disgusting and flies in the face of the ESA and conservation biology to succumb to such anti-ESA rhetoric. No matter if the FWS references publications by Bean, Wilcove and Bonnie of the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Such literature generated by them, their organization and funded by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and timber companies such as International Paper is merely an opinion and a biased one at that where monetary compensation is concerned. The FWS is aware that Bean and Bonnie of EDF are not independent scientists when it comes to their providing services to International Paper for their RCW HCP/ITP.
The FWS shows its failure to uphold the public trust in conserving our nation's endangered species by kowtowing to private landholder desires rather than fully implementing and enforcing the ESA. Speak the truth rather than this disgusting cowardly speak! State clearly that the FWS Regional Directors and staff are not being supported by DOI and that the DOI/FWS is not actively enforcing the ESA due to politics and fear. FEAR has paralyzed the FWS! All these so-called incentives, voluntary compliance and user- friendly attitude towards non-federal landholders is unlawful and unscientific. NON-FEDERAL OR PRIVATE LANDHOLDERS ARE NOT SOVEREIGN NATIONS BUT ARE SUBJECT TO THE LAW. THEY ARE NOT ENTITLED TO TAKE AWAY OUR NATURAL HERITAGE THAT IS REGULATED. The ESA is not voluntary or flexible, nor is it to be negotiated. The ESA is to be enforced and implemented by the FWS. Protecting endangered species by the law is not a disincentive anymore than stopping at a red light to avoid a car collision is. The FWS has failed to prosecute and continues to avoid prosecuting violators of the ESA. Such failure by the public trust agency is the disincentive to species conservation. That is the truth.
When considering the numerous HCP/ITPs and Safe Harbor agreements throughout the historic range and distribution of the RCW, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to understand the FWS's rational as depicted in the charts in the draft Recovery Plan.
The Sage Council requests that the final Recovery Plan provide maps and charts that clearly identify RCW habitat, clusters and individuals that are currently covered for "take" through HCP and Safe Harbor agreements.
It is our impression that many of the RCWs and habitat currently identified for recovery are also identified for "take" which is hypocritical. It is necessary to clarify whether the proposed Recovery Criteria is conceptual or can realistically be met in lieu of all the "take" permits and agreements. When mapping the "take" regions, please differentiate between HCP reserves and HCP planning areas, because it is all the land outside of the reserve and within the planning areas that are most often subject to "take" coverage (i.e. International Paper HCP/ITP where "take" can occur on approximately 5 MILLION ACRES although the RCW was found on approximately 2,000 acres - which leads to greater destruction of the long-leaf pine ecosystem).
The Sage Council requests greater discussion and inclusion of habitat acquisition as a Recovery Task. It is our position that the need for habitat acquisition from willing sellers is the most effective method of conserving and recovering the RCW and Southern Pines Ecosystem. Certainly such acquisition of habitat and potential habitat will need to be managed, but without acquisition of additional lands it will be nearly impossible to maintain a viable population in the long-tern only on federal lands. The FWS cannot realistically expect the military bases to carry such a burden without increasing their land base. Again in consideration of the limits of conservation on military bases that have been assured in active agreements. If the military can conserve endangered species, corporate landholders and citizens must also meet such standards if the RCW is to recover. The Sage Council requests that the FWS include habitat acquisition from willing sellers as a Recovery Task as section 1.5.3.on p.168.
Maintaining current populations and clusters is not "recovery." Populations must increase as evidence of viability. Therefore, the Sage Council requests that the FWS change such language in the draft recovery plan. We recommend that the language be changed to "Increase and maintain populations ." On section 2 and 3 pp. 168-169.
The Sage Council requests elimination of section 3.1. and 3.2. and replace with language that is consistent with the ESA as enacted by Congress. Safe Harbor promotion as "recovery" should not be included or any other scheme that provides "take". We recommend additional language regarding habitat acquisition and cooperation in fund raising.
In closing, our final concern is in species translocation methods. While it is not an easy task for the FWS to ensure private landholder compliance with the ESA, the lead federal agency must ensure that the translocation of RCWs does not limit the natural range and distribution of the species.
A few individuals or small clusters must not be written off as "take" or translocated simply because the landholder desires that the bird/s be moved off the land. Ft. Bragg has used successful habitat management and cavity/box placements to increase smaller numbers on the base. It may be even more necessary to protect these smaller numbers in context of landscape linkages throughout the ecosystem. RCWs are dynamic in their distribution. In Johnson County a female RCW traveled 70 miles to find a suitable habitat area where it could join a group that had males. While this was considered an unusual occurrence and has not been found anywhere else with RCWs that are monitored by banding, it does indicate that it is possible for RCW individuals and small groups to manage to locate each other and increase.
The FWS and Recovery Team need to be very specific in regards to RCW translocation and scientifically acceptable methods. For instance, in the Sandhills adult RCWs are not translocated. Fledglings are moved to areas where the habitat has been stabilized first. The habitat quality of translocation site needs to be in-kind or higher. This is quite a different translocation method than that approved in the International Paper HCP/ITP where adults where permitted to be translocated. There must be consistency that adults are not to be translocated but managed insitu.
Also in the Sandhills, translocation occurs in the fall and they do not move pairs. Females are moved to areas where there are solitary males or 4 to 5 birds are moved together to an area where cavities have been placed and there is adequate foraging. Therefore, we request that the FWS provide greater discussion and detail regarding appropriate translocation methods in recovery.
Thank you for all of your good work. It is our intent to be helpful while strongly urging full implementation and enforcement of the ESA. Please include the Sage Council on all of your distributions of proposals effecting the RCW and Southern Pine Ecosystem.
For the wild Earth,