You know that we live in a sad world when news like this comes out. News broke yesterday that residents in Boiling Spring Lakes, North Carolina are cutting down trees at an alarming rate to protect their land from an endangered woodpecker species. You’re probably wondering what kind of threat a woodpecker poses, residents in the area fear that if the woodpeckers nest in their trees it will be impossible to further land development in their area. Since February Residents have been swarming City Hall to apply for lot-clearing permits. The mentality behind the clearing is that if there are no trees to support the woodpecker habitat the federal Fish and Wildlife Service would not be able to set aside the land as a woodpecker habitat.
Currently the agency has 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.
The red-cockaded woodpecker was once an abundant species in the region. They could be found in longleaf pine forests from New Jersey to Florida. Now the number of birds in the wild has been cut down to numbers as low as 15,000. What makes the red-cockaded woodpecker so distinct from other woodpeckers is that it nests solely in living trees.
Sadly the same people who are out to destroy potential homes for the red-cockaded woodpecker are the same people who created homes for it in the past. The trees that stood in the forest before it was turned into a town were used to collect sap to make turpentine. Locals carved V-shaped notches in the pines to drain the tree’s sap and collect it. These wounds allowed fungus to infiltrate the tree’s core, making it easier for the woodpecker to excavate its nest hole and probe for the beetles, spiders and wood-boring insects it prefers.
What makes this story even more saddening is the amount of time it takes for this woodpecker to even complete a nest. It can take a red-cockaded woodpecker up to six years to create a single nest hole. While this may seem like an extremely long time to create a nest the work is not done in vain. Unlike most birds the red-cockaded woodpecker actually passes down its nest generation to generation.
Pete Benjamin, supervisor of the federal agency’s Raleigh office told The New York Times that, “Landowners have overreacted. 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.”
While the federal Fish and Wildlife Service have an optimistic outlook on the woodpecker “problem” others are not so sure. A resident in the area named Bonner Stiller has been holding on to two wooded half-acre lakefront lots for the last 23 years. When the federal Fish and Wildlife Service put Boiling Spring Lakes on notice that rapid development threatened to squeeze out the woodpecker, Stiller stripped both lots of longleaf pines before the government could issue its new map. Stiller a Republican member of the state General Assembly told The New York Times, “They have finally developed a value, and then to have that taken away from you?”
For many this just sounds like a story of residents protecting their assets, but what most people aren’t looking at is the whole picture. While the residents have cut down the trees to prevent the woodpeckers from nesting they have also destroyed the homes and habitats of other species. What is to become of the insects and numerous other creatures that use these trees as shelter from the elements? Furthermore if they force the woodpeckers to other regions that do not provide the proper habitat they risk endangering the woodpecker further. By forcing it into areas that do not provide adequate nesting grounds or introduce new threats or predators to the species.
I stumbled upon this story at an interesting time in my life, as I am focusing much of my energy on becoming a better person and grounding myself in nature. I am currently thumbing through the pages of The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in The Rhythms of Nature by Starhawk. The book discusses many issues like this one. Stories where people focus solely on bettering the situation for themselves and do not think about the long term consequences their decisions may have on the land or on the people and animals that live on that land.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to find their place in the “Big Picture” that we call earth. The small section of the book I have already read has already opened my eyes greatly to the huge difference that small changes can make. For more information and to read a brief excerpt of this visit Amazon.com.