Woodpecker Massacre

The threat of threatened species


According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), only 15,000 red-cockaded woodpeckers remain in the United States. Eager to protect the mature pine forests in which they nest, the agency recently informed the residents of Boiling Spring Lakes, North Carolina, that it had detected the endangered birds in the vicinity.

Thus informed, the landowners moved to protect their property rights—by mowing down mature pine trees. Residents feared the FWS would designate whole neighborhoods as woodpecker habitat and impose stringent building restrictions, slashing the value of their real estate. As soon as the agency notified residents that its mapmakers were looking for areas to designate as protected habitat, landowners applied for lot-clearing permits. One dejected resident told the Associated Press, "It's ruined the beauty of our city."

The obvious solution is for FWS to offer compensation to landowners who agree to protect the bird, but in the past the agency has chosen sticks over carrots. As Holly Fretwell of the Property and Environment Research Center has noted, "Under the Third Amendment to the Constitution, Americans cannot be forced to quarter soldiers in their houses, but under the [Endangered Species Act] Americans can be forced to harbor listed birds, snails, wolves and bears."