Though few Soldiers have seen the elusive bird, most have heard of the red-cockaded woodpecker or seen white signs limiting training in its habitat.
Federal law requires Fort Bragg to protect the habitat of the endangered RCW, which is a job that the Directorate of Public Works, Endangered Species Branch and Range Control take very seriously.
“The red-cockaded woodpecker has been protected on Fort Bragg since the early ’80s,” said Wolf W. Amacker, chief of operations, Fort Bragg Range Control. “Since that time, training restrictions were developed in order to support training and protect the RCW at the same time.”
Amacker said proper training procedures are covered in the weekly range conferences.
“This conference focuses on the tactical and environmental requirements to train on Fort Bragg,” he said. “We address general environmental restrictions and training requirements as outlined in several Fort Bragg policies, including Fort Bragg Regulation 350-6 and Fort Bragg Regulation 385-10.”
Knowing the limitations helps Soldiers train more effectively and ensures restrictions are not tightened due to a decline in population.
“If the population declines, the assumption is that training is the cause,” said Jackie Britcher, chief of the DPW, Endangered Species Branch.
Still, Soldiers need to train and according to Fort Bragg regulations, and they must do so in a way that will not disrupt the RCW habitat.
“Protected red-cockaded woodpecker areas are not off-limits,” said Amacker. “They simply have training restrictions, which dictate how long troops may remain in the area and the maximum type of training they may conduct adjacent to RCW areas.”
Britcher said training restrictions in protected RCW areas limit troops from activities that would damage the habitat including, digging, refueling and using generators.
“The restrictions have been so successful that we are now removing the vast majority of the training restrictions,” said Amacker. “This gives units a much wider area to select from in order to conduct their training.”
The number of areas with training restrictions has been decreasing for the past several months, totaling nearly 50 percent reduction in signs posted, after the DPW Endangered Species Branch submitted a biological assessment to determine that the RCW population is growing, said Britcher.
He added that an estimated 405 potential breeding pairs were recorded on Fort Bragg in 2012. The reduced restrictions serve as a testament to the effectiveness of previous restrictions, which led to the increase of RCW population on Fort Bragg.
“Habitat management for the woodpeckers is very compatible with training by providing quality training land,” said Britcher.
The RCW acts as an indicator species, so their survival illustrates the success of that specific ecosystem, said Amacker. In this case, the longleaf pine ecosystem also serves as a training area for Soldiers.
“If they’re (RCWs) doing well, then the rest of the environment is probably doing well also,” said Amacker. “Protecting the overall environment guarantees the installation continued lands to train on.”
The installation has a finite amount of resources and land, which is important to preserve, including sustaining natural resources and maintaining water quality, said Britcher.
Although Soldiers perceive RCWs as a training nuisance, its survival at Fort Bragg serves as a representation of the land’s ecological stability and reduces the need to increase restrictions.
Meeting a population recovery goal was a significant milestone for Fort Bragg. However, the ultimate goal includes RCW habitat recovery as defined by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We have not met the RCW habitat recovery standards,” said Britcher. “To keep restrictions reduced, we must maintain a stable population and continue aggressive habitat management, that includes prescribed fire.”