Fort Bragg recently completed a four-year comparative analysis between protected clusters and unprotected clusters of red cockaded woodpeckers in two sample areas with similar habitat types and levels of training exposure. Biologists determined the productivity of the clusters by a variety of factors such as survivorship and fledgling success.
Results indicated that the productivity of protected clusters did not significantly differ from that of unprotected clusters.
Red cockaded woodpecker recovery efforts have set the foundation for the environmental program at Fort Bragg. In turn, Fort Bragg has served as a national model for sustainability, and many other installations throughout the Department of Defense have emulated their policies and achievements. “Our efforts lead the Army to consider a holistic approach toward natural resource conservation, which leads to the sustainability movement and the balance of the needs of today with the needs of tomorrow” said Erich Hoffman, wildlife biologist.
Furthermore, Fort Bragg has become a “source population” for the red cockaded woodpecker. As such, the installation can provide the translocation of birds to other populations in need.
“You are the pioneers and visionaries, refusing to compromise Soldier readiness and instead going in search of common ground to accomplish the mission and meet environmental responsibilities,” said Nancy Natoli of the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment. “Now, 65 other installations are enjoying similar protection to important mission capabilities because you all had the perseverance and courage to invent a solution on the blank slate and follow the long journey of learning.”
Despite these successes, the red cockaded woodpecker is still an endangered species and Fort Bragg will continue to monitor and protect the birds in an effort to sustain its current populations and meet its habitat recovery goals. Buffers will remain in the main cantonment area, an area known as the Green Belt and Camp MacKall.
“The main cantonment is a special management emphasis area,” explained Jessie Schillaci, wildlife biologist. “It is surrounded by encroachment and very important to the dispersal movements of the red cockaded woodpecker between the northeast area and the remainder of Fort Bragg. If this area is compromised, a potential loss of 40 potential breeding groups could impede the official recovery classification on Fort Bragg,” Schillaci said. The Green Belt provides demographic connectivity critical for recovery status. According to Britcher, the birds at Camp MacKall are part of an essential support population associated with the Sandhills Game Lands.
The installation will enforce certain protocols to maintain and improve habitat for the birds and thus preserve open training lands.
Soldiers are still required to follow Installation Range Regulation 350-6. Training restrictions as defined in the regulation are still in effect where there are buffer signs and/or cavity trees with double white bands.
Personnel are prohibited from removing or damaging pine trees unless they receive prior approval from the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division.
Units will immediately report damage to any large pine trees and any excessive soil disturbance to Range Support.
Many other potentially disturbing activities such as large digging exercises and the establishment of fueling points continue to be identified, approved and scheduled through Range Support per Range Regulation 350-6 to keep these activities out of sensitive habitats and protect training lands overall.
If Fort Bragg identifies clusters that require further protection or if the population and health of the birds decrease, training restrictions may be re-implemented in the future.
“As a steward of public lands, Fort Bragg demonstrates that military training and natural resource conservation can and should coexist,” said Britcher. “It is critical that we continue sound ecological management, not only to ensure long term red cockaded woodpecker recovery but also to ensure quality training lands.”
(Editors note: This is the last part of a two-part series on the recovery of the red cockaded woodpecker.)