Out of Control Policy Blog

Rare Woodpecker Sends Town Running for Chain Saws

Check out this fascinating article, with pictures. Folks realizing the feds are about to declare all swaths of local land as protected habitat move quickly to remove the habitat.

The chain saws started in February, when the federal Fish and Wildlife Service put Boiling Spring Lakes on notice that rapid development threatened to squeeze out the woodpecker.

The agency issued a map marking 15 active woodpecker "clusters," and announced it was working on a new one that could potentially designate whole neighborhoods of this town in southeastern North Carolina as protected habitat, subject to more-stringent building restrictions.

Hoping to beat the mapmakers, landowners swarmed City Hall to apply for lot-clearing permits. Treeless land, after all, would not need to be set aside for woodpeckers. Since February, the city has issued 368 logging permits, a vast majority without accompanying building permits.

The federal spokesman seemed puzzled:

Landowners have overreacted, says Pete Benjamin, supervisor of the federal agency's Raleigh office. Having a woodpecker tree on a piece of property does not necessarily mean a house cannot be built there, Mr. Benjamin said. A landowner can even get permission to cut down a cavity tree, as long as an alternative habitat can be found. "For the most part, we've found ways to work with most folks," he said.

But people don't have kind of reaction out of the blue. If they had any reason to expect the feds to work cooperatively with them to allow reasonable use of land and protection of habitat, they wouldn't be running chainsaw happy. But most of us who live outside of cities have personally seen cases where the feds act on preserving habitat without any common sense or fairness. We are right to fear their arbitrary power. The shame is that it leads to this kind of destruction.

How much better for everyone, including the woodpeckers, if the feds, and the local residents, embraced a cooperative conservation approach.

Adrian Moore is Vice President, Policy


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