In a sort of ecological trade-off, conservationists headed into the Arkansas woods Thursday to kill dozens of trees in hopes of helping the ivory-billed woodpecker, a bird that up until recently was feared extinct.
The woodpecker feasts on beetle larvae beneath the bark of dead trees. Killing trees by damaging the bark or administering herbicide could create more food for them and help the species recover.
"The goal really is to see if we can induce some kind of decrepitness in these trees, attract the insects and ultimately see if the woodpecker would use the trees," said Douglas Zollner, who works with The Nature Conservancy and is one of the project directors.
Zollner said the idea came even before scientists revealed in April that the woodpecker had been found living in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Arkansas. For more than half a century, the bird was thought to have been driven to extinction.
The plan calls for killing trees on four, four-acre plots where the woodpecker was sighted.
On Thursday, Mike Melnechuk with The Nature Conservancy traveled to the four plots of swampy forestland owned by the conservation group and the state to slowly kill some of the trees with herbicide. Melnechuk also planned to use a method called girdling, in which chain saws and axes are used cut the bark and cause the tree to die.
He planned to treat between 35 and 50 trees on each patch of land. There are between 2,000 and 2,800 trees on each plot.
The hope is that in about two or three years the trees will be dead or dying and hit their peak in beetle infestation.