March 11, 2010

Hawaiian Species Get Endangered Listing

Wildlife experts praised the Obama administration for its "holistic approach" to conversation in Hawaii, after it named 48 species to be added to the endangered species list on Wednesday, boosting the number of endangered Hawaiian species from 2 to 50.

The administration also plans to set aside more than 40 square miles on Kauai as a critical refuge for plants and animals to flourish. The habitat will allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to adopt a new approach to protecting species by restoring health to the broad ecosystems they inhabit.

The wildlife agency previously tried to protect endangered species by adopting separate plans to secure their individual habitats. This led to unorganized and overlapping efforts, and was difficult for a state that has more endangered species than any other in the union.

Along with 45 plants that were declared endangered, the list also included a species of fly and two Honeycreeper birds. All 48 species are indigenous to the island of Kauai.

Suzanne Case, Hawaii executive director for The Nature Conservancy, celebrated the approach, telling the Associated Press that it would enable officials to focus their attention on large scale threats, such as weeds and feral pigs.

Feral pigs are considered a threat because they burrow holes in the forest while searching for food, creating places for still water to pool where mosquitoes breed and spread diseases that kill native birds. Sheep are also a threat as they gorge on native forest trees that rare birds rely on for food.

With no natural predators, these animals have spread rapidly over the islands. Invasive weeds are also threatening native plants.

The Interior Department announced in October 2008 it planned to list the 48 species as endangered and establish a habitat for them, but needed time to get more feedback and public comment before making the rule final.

The Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tucson, Arizona, called the decision long overdue, noting that some of the candidates needed the listing for more than 20 years. The center filed a petition in 2004 to have the 48 species listed as endangered, and followed with a lawsuit in 2006.

WildEarth Guardians of Santa Fe, NM, filed its own lawsuit in January saying that the federal government was taking too long to issue a decision on the matter.

The newly listed bird akikiki or Kauai Creeper, has declined by 80 percent since the 1960s, with only about 1,300 birds remaining in the wild. The other honeycreeper, akekee or Kauai akepa, is down from 8,000 birds in 2000 to only 3,500 today.

Nearly all of the land designated as critical habitat is already categorized as such for other endangered or threatened species. The state owns most of that land.


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