RCW-Safe Harbor Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Safe Harbor Program?
Florida's Safe Harbor Program for red-cockaded woodpeckers is a voluntary program that is designed to involve private landowners in the recovery of the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. The agreement is authorized between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt introduced the concept of the Safe Harbor program in 1995. Prior to that time, many landowners were hesitant to protect or enhance endangered species habitat, due to concerns that they might attract endangered species and then be subject to legal restrictions under the Endangered Species Act.

How does the Safe Harbor Program work?
By entering Florida's red-cockaded woodpecker Safe Harbor Program, landowners agree to engage in conservation activities that could further the recovery of red-cockaded woodpeckers. The Safe Harbor Program provides assurances that no additional regulatory restrictions will result if the landowner is able to increase woodpecker populations on their property.

How will the red-cockaded woodpecker benefit from Safe Harbor?
The red-cockaded woodpecker is dependant upon open stands of mature pine. By encouraging land management by private landowners that benefits the red-cockaded woodpecker, the bird will benefit from having increased suitable habitat.

Why is this agreement important?
One of the main reasons for the red-cockaded woodpecker's decline is loss of habitat. Over half of all endangered species reside on private lands. In Florida, private lands provide habitat for as much as 10 percent of the red-cockaded woodpecker population. By engaging private landowners in activities that will benefit the RCW, more habitat is created to help existing populations. For landowners, the program provides assurances that no additional regulatory restrictions will result if the landowners are able to increase woodpecker populations on their property.

Who is eligible to participate in the Safe Harbor Program?
Any private landowner in Florida who has land that does or could support red-cockaded woodpeckers.

What are the necessary steps a landowner needs to take to become a part of the Safe Harbor Program in Florida?
To become a part of the Safe Harbor Program in Florida, a landowner must contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). In order to enroll property in the program, the landowner will need to know the red-cockaded woodpecker baseline of his property and be willing to agree to implement management activities that could benefit the species. Once the landowner submits a Safe Harbor Management Agreement, the FWC will verify the baseline conditions, and then issue the landowner a "Certificate of Inclusion" which will include the property in the program.

How are participating landowners assured that the program will protect their interests?
Once enrolled in the program, a landowner is given a "Certificate of Inclusion" which is a legal document that assures the protections.

What is a baseline?
The number of red-cockaded woodpecker groups that are present at the beginning of a landowner's agreement is called a baseline. If there are no groups or foraging-habitat present the base line is zero. Landowners are only responsible for the number of red-cockaded woodpecker groups that are determined at the beginning of their agreement.

How long are Safe Harbor Agreements valid?
Safe Harbor Agreements can extend for any length of time up to 99 years from 2006. Long agreements are encouraged.

What happens if a landowner decides not to participate in the Safe Harbor Program anymore?
Agreements may be canceled with a 60-day notice, at which time the landowner no longer receives the assurances of the Safe Harbor Program.

If a landowner cancels his agreement, what happens to the residing red-cockaded bird population?
If a Safe Harbor Agreement is cancelled, the landowner has the same Endangered Species Act requirements as any other landowner not in the Safe Harbor Program.

What does a landowner need to do to manage his land for red-cockaded woodpeckers?
Beneficial land management for red-cockaded woodpeckers includes conducting recurring prescribed burns, lengthening pine timber rotations, thinning and maintaining pine stands and controlling mid-story and over-story hardwoods.

What happens if a landowner decides to sell his land?
If the landowner decides to sell his land, a Safe Harbor Agreement may be transferred to the new owner or cancelled. Having a Safe Harbor Agreement in no way limits a landowner's right to sell his property.

What happens to the red-cockaded woodpecker population if the new owner does not wish to participate in the Safe Harbor Program?
The new landowner then has the same Endangered Species Act requirements of any landowner not in the Safe Harbor Program.



FWC Facts:
Healthy lakes with vibrant fisheries enhance property values & development potential and justify the need for sustainable development practices to protect them into the future.

Learn More at AskFWC