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20th CES protects endangered population

Hutch Collins, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron threatened and endangered species biologist, holds baby red-cockaded woodpeckers after placing identification bands on them at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range at Wedgefield, S.C., May 30, 2018.

Hutch Collins, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron threatened and endangered species biologist, holds baby red-cockaded woodpeckers after placing identification bands on them at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range at Wedgefield, S.C., May 30, 2018. The woodpeckers are an endangered species that live in old-growth pine forests and reside in large family clusters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

Hutch Collins, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron threatened and endangered species biologist, looks for baby red-cockaded woodpeckers in a tree cavity at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range at Wedgefield, S.C., May 30, 2018.

Hutch Collins, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron threatened and endangered species biologist, looks for baby red-cockaded woodpeckers in a tree cavity at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range at Wedgefield, S.C., May 30, 2018. Collins monitors and documents the endangered species’ populations on the range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

Chip Ridgeway, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron natural and cultural program manager, prepares identification bands for red-cockaded woodpecker hatchlings at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range at Wedgefield, S.C., May 30, 2018.

Chip Ridgeway, 20th Civil Engineer Squadron natural and cultural program manager, prepares identification bands for red-cockaded woodpecker hatchlings at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range at Wedgefield, S.C., May 30, 2018. Each woodpecker has a unique set of band colors that help range workers identify them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Destinee Sweeney)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- A biologist assigned to the 20th Civil Engineer Squadron documented new red-cockaded woodpecker offspring at Poinsett Electronic Combat Range at Wedgefield, South Carolina, May 30.

Range employees take care of the at-risk woodpecker population, which is located on Air Force training grounds.

“The red-cockaded woodpecker is the only federally endangered species we have at Poinsett Range,” said Ronald June, 20th CES chief of natural and cultural resources. “They are only indigenous to the southeastern United States. You won’t find them anywhere else. They’re endangered because they’re the only woodpecker that makes their cavity in a live tree and they sleep individually in the cavities. Most old-growth pine trees they prefer to live in are cut for timber, so you don’t usually have old-growth.”

Because the range is managed by the Defense Department, the pine trees are protected and preserved for the endangered species. Due to the risk of the species disappearing, operations may need to be adjusted to keep the birds from harm on some military training grounds.

“It’s just good stewardship, from an ethical standpoint,” said Hutch Collins, 20th CES threatened and endangered species biologist. “Sometimes these endangered species can get a bad rap. Luckily there’s not a lot of ground training going on here so you don’t see much of the training restrictions. … By monitoring the woodpeckers and assisting with other populations we’re contributing toward that (species’) recovery which maximizes the Air Force training mission.”

Depending on the season, biologists work to identify birds and clusters, install nesting boxes in pine trees and use controlled burns to promote the growth of trees the bird’s nest in. They may also decide to relocate the birds to other areas such as Sumter National Forest, S.C., or ranges at Ft. Jackson, S.C., or Ft. Gordon, Georgia.

Poinsett Range protects both state and federally threatened and endangered species. The population goal for Poinsett set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is thirty clusters of birds. The range currently stands at twenty-nine clusters.