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Feds to designate new critical habitats for endangered Hawaiian species

Over six years of delays from the Fish and Wildlife Service prompted conservationists to push for the designation of special protective habitats for native Hawaiian species.

HONOLULU (CN) — Nearly 50 endangered plant and animal species endemic to the Hawaiian Islands can now celebrate gaining increased protections to preserve their quickly dwindling populations following discussions between conservationists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency and the Center for Biological Diversity reached an agreement Monday to finally designate critical habitats for 39 plant and 10 animal species on the islands, over six years after Fish and Wildlife first categorized them as endangered.

“I’m glad these fragile Hawaiian species will finally get the habitat protections they desperately need to survive,” said Center for Biological Diversity attorney and Hawaii director Maxx Phillips in a statement. “There’s just no way these special plants and animals can recover if we don’t protect their homes.

According to the center, the Fish and Wildlife Service has until June 30, 2028, to officially designate habitats for 46 of the 49 species. The ‘Akē‘akē, or band-rumped storm petrel, the anchialine pool shrimp and Baker’s loulu palm tree have a separate deadline of June 30, 2027.

Per the Endangered Species Act, federal agencies are required to designate a critical habitat for a species when a species is determined to be threatened or endangered. In special instances, critical habitat designation can be deferred for a maximum of one year.

The 49 species were first listed as endangered in 2016. After a six-year delay and with no indication that the service had critical habitat designation in the works for the imperiled species, the center sued the agency, its director Martha Williams and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland in August 2022. The group called out the years of delay in designating special areas dedicated to conservation of the endangered species.

“Hawaii is in the midst of an extinction crisis, and habitat destruction is the number one cause,” Phillips said. “Protecting the places these unique plants and animals require for survival is crucial in our fight to keep them from going extinct.”

Due to the state’s isolated location, Hawaii is home to one of the world’s highest number of native species, many of them endemic to the islands and therefore considered endangered.

The 39 plant and 10 animal species have been increasingly threatened by the effects of climate change, increased human intervention and the introduction of invasive species. Many are also particularly vulnerable due to their already diminished populations and habitats.

Protections will now extend for a multitude of native flora and fauna, many of them key parts of the delicate Hawaiian ecosystem, including several ferns and shrubs essential for maintaining Hawaii’s forests and watersheds. The Hawaiian yellow-faced bee, known in Hawaiian as nalo meli maoli, is considered pollinator adapted especially for Hawaii’s native vegetation and is now protected. Many of the species are also important in Native Hawaiian cultural and spiritual practices.

The agreement regarding these 49 endangered species follows a similar settlement from 2020 between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the center for 12 Hawaii Island endangered species. The agency released an initial proposal for several thousand acres of land on the Big Island to be set aside for conservation purposes in March.

Categories / Environment, Regional

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