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Babbitt Lauds S.C. Woodpecker Deal

March 27, 1998

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (AP) _ Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt cradled a tiny red-cockaded woodpecker in his hand as the tuft of white, black and gray feathers fluttered to get free.

``His heart is beating about 500 beats a minute,″ Babbitt said Thursday before releasing the bird among the tall pines to celebrate an agreement making it easier to protect the endangered woodpeckers and still allow development on the land.

Finding red-cockaded woodpeckers on one’s land had been like putting up a ``no development″ sign because it was against the law to destroy the bird’s habitat. The ``safe harbor agreement″ allows property owners who protect existing populations to develop or log other parts of their land.

There are about 4,500 flocks of the woodpeckers in old-growth forests from Texas to Virginia, each with about four or five birds. About 700 flocks are in South Carolina, which became the second state after Texas to sign the deal with the federal government.

The agreement encourages property owners to create woodpecker habitat, and allows wildlife workers to move any new woodpeckers that nest.

Owners of 84,000 acres of South Carolina forest have signed up.

Babbitt called the agreement a model for the nation.

``The gridlock and train wrecks of the Pacific Northwest over the spotted owl have come to typify the public’s view of the Endangered Species Act,″ Babbitt said. ``There is an increasingly dangerous assumption that it’s one or the other _ jobs or the environment.″

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