The endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker has been given a death warrant as a species by the “Timber Beasts” who manage our National Forests primarily for the financial benefit of the lumber industry.

In 1985, the Sierra Club, Texas Committee on Natural Resources and the Wilderness Society filed suit against the United States Department of Agriculture in a quixotic attempt to force the United States Forest Service to protect the woodpecker that was rapidly disappearing due to wholesale clear-cutting and other destructive forest practices.

Despite several court rulings that should have convinced the USFS to actually protect the native forest ecosystems upon which the Red-cockaded Woodpecker had depended without human interference for thousands of years, the USFS used every dirty trick in the book to make sure that their “experts”, cronies, toadies and other associates could get “a piece of the bird pie”.

The timber industry would get the biggest slice by continuing to chop down thousands of the old-growth trees that the bird builds its nest in. The pyromaniacs, who make money burning the forest on a frequency never seen in nature, were made happy. “Experts” of all persuasions would be paid to figure out ways for the bird to survive in artfully manipulated “Woodpecker Zoos”.

Using specious theories, data, and downright fabrications, the USFS has concocted a survival plan for the woodpecker at the expense of the native forest ecosystem and all that lives therein, including ultimately the Red-cockaded Woodpecker itself.

The biggest threat to the little bird is the continued logging of old growth pines that are lusted after by the timber industry that destroyed most of the ancient trees on their lands long ago. The original pine-hardwood forests of Southeast Texas had pine basal areas estimated to be as high at 400 square feet per acre. As the oldest trees died there was always a huge inventory of remaining ancient trees that lasted until the next generation reached old-age.

The original ancient forests that were thick with pines and hardwoods up to six feet in diameter were decimated long ago but the birds managed to survive in those second-growth forests with remnant old-growth pines and older second-growth pines with basal areas of 100 or more. The USFS and their lackies successfully argued that the birds only needed a few old pines and that the forest would be healthier if they cut 30-50% of them down and hauled them off to the sawmills.

What they didn’t tell the Courts was the truth. During and after the cutting, the remaining old pines that the birds rely on are subjected to many stresses including wind-throw, root compaction by heavy equipment, prescribed fire, southern pine beetle attack because of the chemical attractants released from the stumps of the cut trees, scarring and other damage caused by careless logging.

More critical, however is the scientific fact that the few remaining old trees will, over time, die off at a much faster rate than they can be replaced. Eventually, the woodpeckers will have to rely on artificial cavities in younger and younger trees. To add insult to injury, the Forest Service, which has a long history of hatred toward oaks, magnolias, dogwoods, hollies and anything that doesn’t have pine needles on it, destroys as many hardwoods as possible even though the hardwoods tend to protect the pines from pine beetles and serve as food sources for the woodpeckers.

The destruction of the valuable old pines by the lumber industry opens up the forest canopy to intense direct sunlight that tends to dry out the forest soils and causes an invasion of weeds and woody species that rapidly grow into thickets that are not appreciated by the woodpeckers. Millions upon millions of imported red fire ants also invade the disturbed forest, severely impacting many native species of ants and other species of insects preferred by the woodpeckers.

The invasion of weeds and woody plants into the open areas where the old pines had been, then gives the pyromaniacs an excuse to burn the forest, at a frequency not found in nature. The fires do a great job of burning up the weeds and young trees, but they also are attracted to the pitch that oozes from the woodpecker cavities that are drilled into the old living pines. I have taken photographs of a woodpecker colony in Sam Houston National Forest that was burned three times in succession, killing nearly every old growth pine including the cavity tree homes of the birds, which reminded me of the “Vietnam Syndrome” of our soldiers napalming and burning up the villages of the Vietnamese to save them from communism.

Burning the woodpecker habitat every two or three years in areas where nature would burn the forest every 30-60 years assures that no young pines will ever survive infancy in order to eventually replace the middle-age and old-age trees that are normally big enough to survive the intense burning programs. The constant burning also insures that eventually there will be no dogwoods, hawthorns, plums, cherries, magnolias, or other flowering trees that bring beauty to our native East Texas forests in Springtime.

The Red-cockaded Woodpecker will probably survive in these artificially created “Woodpecker Zoos” for a few more decades only to eventually go the way of their cousin the Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are in fact, biologists, forest ecologists, ornithologists and other scientists who are truly and deeply committed to saving the species from extinction. If America could be blessed with a government committed to the long-term survival of “America the Beautiful”, our National Forests could be protected to serve as habitat for all native species, including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.

Until that day, and as long as the “Timber Beasts” rule the United States Forest Service, and our Congress, both from the inside and from the board rooms of “Big Lumber”, citizens and caring scientists will be forced to find ways to save the species despite the destruction of the native forest ecosystem. Let us just hope that ethics will win out over greed before it is too late. “Extinction is forever”.

George H. Russell

Forest Practices Chair

Lone Star Sierra Club

George H. Russell, an outspoken opponent of the death penalty, is a resident of Huntsville, Texas, known worldwide as “The City of Death.”

He is founder of The Patriot Network, and author of its 35+ web-sites located at, as well as founder of The Universal Ethician Church, an interfaith ministry with a worldwide following via the church’s 275+ web sites located at

Russell, born May 22, 1945, is an educational video producer, environmental activist, historic preservation specialist, photographer, art and antique collector, philanthropist, American patriot and ethician.

Additional biographical information may be found in "Who’s Who in America," through Internet searches, and in other publications. Images of Mr. Russell suitable for downloading for publication may be found at

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