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Black-backed woodpecker (copy)

A black-backed woodpecker pecks at a hole in a tree. 

Woodpeckers found in the Black Hills will not be listed as threatened or endangered, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided.

The decision was published Thursday in the Federal Register. The 2012 petition to list the Black Hills and Oregon-Cascades/California populations of black-backed woodpeckers as a threatened or endangered species was filed by the John Muir Project of the Earth Island Institute, of California; the Center for Biological Diversity, of Arizona; the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, of Oregon; and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, of Wyoming.

The groups based their petition partly on a genetic study that showed differences between individual woodpeckers in three areas of the species' range. The groups said the study justified a new taxonomic split of the species into three subspecies, and the groups sought protections for the rarest subspecies found in the Black Hills and parts of Oregon and California.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service disagreed with the claims in the petition.

"Based on our review of the best available scientific and commercial information, as well as the expert opinion of the scientific community," said the agency's written decision, "we find that the Oregon-Cascades/California and Black Hills populations are not subspecies."

Therefore, the agency said, neither of the population groups meets the criteria for being listed as threatened or endangered. That means there will be no special protections granted for the birds, such as the preservation of designated habitat.

The listing petition was opposed by the logging industry, because it could have led to a reduction or elimination of logging in areas frequented by the birds. Ben Wudtke, forest programs manager for the Black Hills Forest Resource Association, a logging-industry group, issued a written statement supporting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision.

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"This decision by the FWS affirms that the broad population of this species of woodpecker is not threatened by forest management actions in the Black Hills," Wudtke said.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, issued a statement condemning the Trump administration for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's refusal to list the black-backed woodpecker and 24 other species.

"This is a truly dark day for America’s imperiled wildlife," Greenwald said. "You couldn’t ask for a clearer sign that the Trump administration puts corporate profits ahead of protecting endangered species."

Chad Hanson, an ecologist for the John Muir Project of Earth Island Institute, was similarly disappointed.

"The Trump administration's decision here is based on politics and economics, not science," Hanson said in emailed comments to the Journal. "The black-backed woodpecker is one of the rarest birds in the western United States, and it is seriously threatened by both logging and fire suppression."

Black-backed woodpeckers are about the size of robins. Males and young black-backed woodpeckers have a yellow crown patch, while the female crown is black. The birds have sooty-black dorsal plumage that camouflages them against the charred bark of burned trees, where they peck for insect larvae. The birds are found in the forests of Alaska, Canada, Washington, Oregon, California, the Northern Rockies, South Dakota, Minnesota and New England.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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Enterprise Reporter

Enterprise reporter for the Rapid City Journal and author of "Calvin Coolidge in the Black Hills."