The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has announced (pdf) that it will conduct a full status review to determine whether protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted for two populations of the black-backed woodpecker (Picoides articus).

The Service’s announcement is in response to a petition filed by environmental groups requesting two populations of the species, the Cascades-Sierra Nevada population in California, Oregon, and Washington, and the Black Hills population in South Dakota and Wyoming, be listed as endangered or threatened subspecies under the ESA, and that critical habitat be designated for the populations.  The petition also requested that, if the Service did not recognize the populations as subspecies, the populations be considered endangered or threatened distinct population segments.

The Service determined that the petition contained substantial information indicating that both the Cascades-Sierra Nevada population and Black Hills population were potentially listable entities, either as subspecies or distinct population segments.

The black-backed woodpecker largely depends on forest fires for food.  The bird has a narrow diet consisting mainly of the larvae of wood-boring and bark beetles.  Unable to attack live trees, these beetles concentrate in areas where trees have been burned by forest fires.  As a result, black-backed woodpecker populations are low in unburned forests, but increase rapidly following a fire.  According to the Service, increased destruction of the bird’s habitat due to salvage logging, tree thinning, and fire suppression activities, are contributing to the species’ decline.

The Service’s status review process is due to be completed in a year.