With its gnarly rough, slick greens and towering pines, the No.
2 course at Pinehurst, the site of next week's U.S. Open, should
be one of the world's least birdie-friendly layouts. But the
opposite is true. "We're a giant playground for wildlife,
especially birds," says Brad Kocher, the director of golf course
maintenance at Pinehurst. "We have at least 65 species of birds."
The rarest is the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species
that thrives at Pinehurst because of a unique habitat-protection
program called Safe Harbor. Administered by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service, Safe Harbor eases development restrictions for
private landowners who cultivate habitats for indigenous
endangered species and protect the animals during breeding
season. Safe Harbor was the result of work by Jay Carter, a
biologist and environmental consultant, and the Environmental
Defense Fund. Carter, whose Ph.D. research focused on the
red-cockaded woodpecker, thought Pinehurst was the ideal place
to offer protected habitat for the species and asked EDF to
design a program that would make that possible. EDF, in turn,
worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With the help of
Kocher, the Pinehurst program was instituted in 1995.
Golf courses in the North Carolina Sandhills provide choice
habitat for red-cockaded woodpeckers--one of 22 species of
woodpeckers in the U.S.--because the birds prefer forests with
little underbrush and few trees except for tall pines. One of
the six family groups of red-cockaded woodpeckers at Pinehurst
lives on the No. 2 course, near the 5th tee.
The Safe Harbor program is now expanding to cover other species,
including the Aplomado falcon and the Attwater prairie chicken
in Texas, and the nene (Hawaiian goose) on the island of Molokai.
Says Michael Bean, chairman of the wildlife program for EDF,
"What Pinehurst did was very progressive. It opened the eyes of
other large landowners to the fact that they could contribute to
the conservation of other species without compromising their
objective of maintaining a nationally recognized golf course."
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY