Agency Lists 23 Species|in Oahu as Endangered

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has added 20 species of plants and three species of damsel flies on the Hawaiian island of Oahu to the endangered species list.
     To help their recovery, the service designated 42,804 acres, or nearly 67 square miles, as critical habitat. The critical habitat designation includes revised critical habitat for 99 species already listed as endangered or threatened, according to the agency’s final rule.
     The action resulted from a 2011 settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity that requires the agency to speed protection decisions for 757 species. Four of the plant species have been identified by the Plant Extinction Prevention Program as having fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild, according to the group. One plant in the African violet family has experienced a decline from seven plants to zero, but it was suggested that this species is “still extant in the wild and may be found with more extensive surveying,” according to the agency’s action.
     The newly protected plant species are mainly in the sunflower, bellflower, rue, African violet, mistletoe, asparagus, dogbane, ginseng and coffee families.
     “These species will join 437 other threatened and endangered species found in Hawaii — the highest number of any state in the nation,” according to the USFWS press release announcing the rule.
     This is the agency’s second mass listing under its “ecosystem-based approach,” which tries to protect all threatened species at once rather than through piecemeal actions. The agency’s first ecosystem approach to listing focused on 48 species on the island of Kauai , and similar protections are proposed for the islands of Molokai, Lanai and Maui .
     “The native plants and animals of Hawaii, like those of other island ecosystems that evolved in isolation from mainland species, are highly specialized and depend on one another for survival. The introduction of alien diseases, as well as alien species, which compete for food and habitat and sometimes become predators of native species, has had a devastating effect on the native plants and animals of the islands,” the agency said.
     The 20 plants and three damselfly species on Oahu face threats from nonnative plants, feral pigs and goats, agricultural and urban development, and other introduced species such as rats, fish, bullfrogs, slugs and ants. Climate change may potentially heighten existing natural threats, including fire, hurricanes, landslides and flooding, according to the agency.
     The plants and damselflies are grouped into seven essential “ecosystem types” of critical habitat, such as Coastal, Lowland Wet, Dry Cliff, Montane Wet and others, the action states.
     About 47 percent of the designated habitat is located on land belonging to the state, 11 percent is on federal lands, 9 percent is on city and county lands, while 33 percent on of the land privately owned.
     The USFWS made significant modifications to its original recommendations for habitat in the proposed rule due to new information “showing that many native Hawaiian plants and animals can be successfully reestablished when reintroduced into historical habitats if threats are effectively managed, as well as new information on plant occurrences and a better understanding of the species’ biological requirements,” the agency said.

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