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Four dozen Hawaii species listed as Endangered

Two birds, one insect and forty-five plants unique to the Hawaiian island Kauai are now listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced this week. Salazar also announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which is responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act, is designating critical habitat on the...

Two birds, one insect and forty-five plants unique to the Hawaiian island Kauai are now listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced this week.

Salazar also announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which is responsible for administering the Endangered Species Act, is designating critical habitat on the island for 47 of these species.

“Our action today reflects President Obama’s determination to base conservation decisions on the best available science and to move quickly to protect our nation’s wildlife and ecosystems when, like the fragile ecosystem of Kauai, they are at risk,” Salazar said in a statement released by FWS on March 10.


Map courtesy of FWS

The designation of critical habitat for the 47 species represents a significant step forward from the FWS’s past efforts to designate critical habitat for threatened and endangered species in Hawaii, the statement added. “Previous critical habitat designations created an overlapping patchwork of habitat that did not maximize conservation efforts for these species and Hawaii’s natural communities.”

“The ecosystem-based approach that our scientists used to make this decision represents an efficient and innovative model for conserving imperiled species and their habitats,” Salazar said. “By highlighting species that share ecosystems and common threats, we can more effectively focus conservation management efforts to address these threats and restore ecosystem function for these species and the entire ecological community.”


Photo courtesy of FWS

Naturally, conservationists had a positive reaction to the announcement:

“This extensive listing provides new hope for Kauai’s many endangered species,” said Suzanne Case, Hawaii executive director for The Nature Conservancy. “The ecosystem approach being adopted is the right approach because it will focus protection efforts on large-scale threats like invasive weeds and feral pig and goat populations. Controlling these threats will not only help ensure the survival of listed species, it will benefit entire ecosystems.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing of 48 plant and animal species as endangered on the island of Kauai marks an important milestone both for species protection and native ecosystem management in Hawaii,” said Executive Director of the Hawaii Conservation Alliance Deanna Spooner. “This new approach not only helps to address the backlog of candidate species awaiting federal protection, it recognizes that the overall health of an ecosystem is vital to species recovery.”


Photo of ‘akikiki, or Kauai creeper, courtesy of FWS

Hawaii has more threatened and endangered species than any other state in the country, FWS said.

“All of the Kauai species included in this decision are threatened by ongoing habitat destruction or modification due to feral ungulates such as pigs and sheep, and nonnative plants,” the service said.

“Several Kauai species are threatened by destruction or modification of habitat due to fire, landslides and flooding.”


Photo courtesy of FWS

“In addition to the threats to their habitat,” FWS said, “one or more of the 48 species are threatened by limited numbers, predation, competition from nonnative plants, lack of reproduction, diseases, vandalism and overcollection.”

The 45 plant species newly listed as endangered include a variety of ferns, vines, shrubs and trees found nowhere else in the world.


Photo courtesy of FWS

“Twenty-three of the plant species have fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild, and some have not been seen for several years, though they are believed to still exist in remote areas,” FWS said.


One fern, Diellia manii, [photo above] was thought to be extinct since the early 1900s, but a single individual was rediscovered in 2002 at Kōke’e State Park.

Photo courtesy of FWS

The addition of these plant species to the endangered species list brings the total number of endangered Hawaiian plants to 309. Another 10 are considered threatened, FWS said.


Photo courtesy of FWS

The two bird species added to the endangered species list are both Hawaiian honeycreepers in the finch family: the ‘akeke’e, or Kaua’i ‘ākepa, and the ‘akikiki, or Kauai creeper. Both species were considered common in the late 1800s and into the early 1960s, FWS said.

“The ‘akeke’e population appeared to be relatively stable at that time, even while other endemic Kaua’i birds were sharply declining, and its population was estimated to be nearly 8,000 birds in 2000,” FWS said. “However, the population had dropped to approximately 3,500 birds by 2007.”


Photo of ‘akeke’e courtesy of FWS

The ‘akikiki population has declined even further, by about 80 percent in the last 40 years, to approximately 1,300 birds in 2007, FWS said.

These two species join 33 other bird species listed as endangered and another listed as threatened in Hawaii.

The newly listed insect, Drosophila sharpi, is a large species of Hawaiian picture-wing fly found in Kauai’s wet forests, FWS said.

“The rule proposing to list this species named the species as Drosophila attigua, but that species was found to be identical to Drosophila sharpi. The final rule reflects this recent taxonomic revision,” FWS said.

The species joins 12 other Hawaiian picture-wing flies on the endangered species list.


Photo courtesy of FWS

A total of 26,582 acres in six different ecosystem types are being designated as critical habitat for 47 of the species, FWS said. Of the total acreage, 98 percent (26,050 acres) overlaps existing critical habitat for other species.

The majority of the designated critical habitat, 21,666 acres, is located on state-owned lands, while 4,918 acres are located on privately owned lands.

An additional 1,052 acres proposed as critical habitat were excluded from the final designation because the designation would have had a negative effect on the private landowner’s voluntary ongoing and future conservation activities, FWS said.

“The land is owned by Alexander & Baldwin, Inc., and is located in the Upper Wainiha Valley. The area is managed by The Nature Conservancy for the long-term protection of this upper watershed. The exclusion is permitted under section 4(b)(2) of the Endangered Species Act,” FWS said.


Photo courtesy of FWS

“The Service used the best scientific data available in designating critical habitat for the species by identifying the common ecosystems and habitat components inhabited by those species,” FWS said.

“This information was developed by using the known locations of the 47 species, site-specific species information, species information from multiple databases, ecosystem maps, digital aerial photographs, previously designated critical habitat for other listed species on the island of Kauai, recent biological surveys and reports, and discussions with individuals familiar with these species and ecosystems.”

In this week’s decision, critical habitat for the plant Pritchardia hardyi, or loulu, was determined not to be prudent because this rare palm is attractive to collectors, FWS said. “A critical habitat designation could trigger an increased risk by alerting collectors to its location.”


Photo courtesy of FWS

In the past, FWS focused Hawaiian critical habitat designations on small areas known to be recently occupied by the species.

“However, the Service rarely had species-specific information sufficient enough to determine if those areas occupied by the last individuals of a species were the best areas to emphasize for future conservation efforts. Studies have shown that many rare Hawaiian plants and animals can occur in areas with marginal habitat if threats are reduced, and that species thrive in historical sites when threats are controlled and native Hawaiian species are reintroduced,” FWS said.

“This monumental ruling is historical in its scope and significance. Many of us have long realized the importance of looking at ecosystems holistically because of the interdependency of these life forms,” said Chipper Wichman, director and CEO, National Tropical Botanical Garden, headquartered on Kauai.

“Recognition of Kauai as a hotspot in the battle to prevent species from going extinct brings even greater focus to the importance of this work. This decision is a really big deal for Kauai and for all of Hawaii. It should help leverage funding and increase protection for these unique species.”

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