Sept. 30 (UPI) -- A rare woodpecker species is moving from "endangered" status to "threatened" after a conservation project involving the U.S. Air Force.
Ceremonies held last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services at Fort Benning, Ga., noted the return of the red cockaded woodpecker, a rare species listed as endangered since 1970.
Restoration of over 23,000 acres of pine trees since 2012 on Air Force bases has resulted in a 178% increase of the birds' on-base populations, the Air Force said on Wednesday in a statement. Air Force bases now house 585 active potential breeding groups.
"Our ranges are home to a diversity of wildlife, and with increasing urban development around them, these installations can become the last refuge for some species like the red cockaded woodpecker," Kevin Porteck of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center said.
The bird, native to the southeastern United States, grows to about eight or nine inches in height at maturity, and has a sharp beak.
Eglin Air Force Base and Tyndall Air Force Base, both in Florida, are among locations included in over 373,000 acres of pine forests actively managed by the Air Force.
Natural resources managers at Eglin also drilled more than 1,500 artificial nest cavities as potential nest sites for the birds. Recovery efforts there have been so successful that the installation donated 212 juvenile woodpeckers to enhance other populations in the region, the statement noted.
Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and Fort Benning Garrison Commander Col. Matthew Scalia were at Fort Benning on Sept. 25 to celebrate the proposed downlisting, from endangered to threatened status, of the red cockaded woodpecker under the Endangered Species Act.
"Partnering for conservation has improved the condition of the red cockaded woodpecker," said Bernhardt. "It also allows us to take this important downlisting step."