October 2, 2008

Feds Want Comprehensive Endangered Species List

When it comes to an endangered species list for the Hawaiian Island of Kauai, the federal government wants to take a new, ecosystem-based approach to adding 48 species, including plants, two birds and a fly.

The Interior Department would designate about 43 square miles as critical habitat for all the species rather than considering each species' habitat separately.

Officials said considering the species all at once, could possibly save time and resources and help the whole ecosystem.

"For more than three decades, we've been struggling with one species at a time," said Dale Hall, Fish and Wildlife Service director. "This gives us a chance to look at groups of species and at the same time be economical in the way we designate critical habitat."

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, said the new "holistic approach" will benefit not only the listed species but also the rest of the ecosystem.

"By addressing the common threats that occur across these ecosystems, we can more effectively focus our conservation efforts on restoring the functions of these shared habitats," Kempthorne said.

The species under consideration include 45 plants, two birds and an insect, the Hawaiian picture-wing fly.

The Endangered Species Coalition said the action could mean "an end to the drought," noting that the Interior Department has added one species to the endangered list in the past two years, the polar bear.

The American Bird Conservancy said the two birds, both species of honeycreepers, need all the help they can get.

The two Kauai birds are the akikiki and the akekee, both honeycreepers and prized finds for birdwatchers.

The akekee is described as yellow and green with a short blue bill and long notched tail. The akikiki has dark feathers above and light feathers below and a pink bill.

George Fenwick, president of the conservancy, said surveys show the two species are on the brink of extinction, with fewer than 1,400 akikiki in 2005 in a shrinking Kauai habitat.

The akekee population was estimated at 3,500 last year, down from about 8,000 birds in 2000.

A final decision on adding the species to the list will be made after one year of research.

Hawaii has more endangered species than any other state with 329, and Kauai has more than any other Hawaiian island with the greatest diversity of plants and animals.

"It is appropriate that we begin this new approach to listing species and designating critical habitat in Kauai," said Patrick Leonard, field supervisor for the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office.

All but 1,646 acres of the 27,674 acres proposed for the 48 species overlap existing critical habitat for other species. Most of the land is federally owned, but nearly 6,000 acres is held by 12 private owners.

Officials said all the private land is either already designated critical habitat for rare species or is covered by other programs that would protect species and landowners would face no new restrictions under the proposal.


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