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Sunday, July 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Hawaii species gain almost 120,000 acres on Big Island for critical habitats

A dozen endangered species of plants, along with the Hawaiian picture-wing fly will finally receive critical habitat designation, years after they were first listed as endangered.

(CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Monday that nearly 120,000 acres of land on the island of Hawaii will be designated as critical habitat for 11 endangered plant and one insect species. 

Plants like the ko‘oko‘olau, or ha‘iwale, and ‘aku are endemic to the island of Hawaii, the biggest island in the chain of islands that makes up the state of Hawaii. The only animal signaled out for protection was the Hawaiian picture-wing fly. 

“We grouped the 12 species in this designation based on their interconnectedness and reliance on ecosystems found only on the island of Hawaii,” wrote Lasha-Lynn Salbosa, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office listing and classification manager for the Fish and Wildlife Service, in a statement.

The protected habitat isn't a contiguous stretch of land, but rather 119,326 acres in patches of federal, state and privately held land across the Big Island, since some of the endangered species live in different ecosystems, ranging from wet grasslands to dry forests. 

“This is terrific news. There’s just no way to save these severely endangered species without protecting and restoring the places they call home,” wrote Maxx Phillips, Hawaii director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Protecting habitat is a crucial step but more needs to be done to address threats from fire, development and invasive species like rats and non-native grasses.”

The rule, which will be published on Tuesday in the Federal Register, was made in response to litigation from the Center for Biological Diversity after the service failed to designate critical habitats for over six years, well beyond the one-year deadline the Endangered Species Act requires.

“Many of these species are so rare in the wild that they are at a high risk of extirpation or even extinction from various catastrophic events, such as hurricanes or landslides. Therefore, supporting resiliency and redundancy in these species through the establishment of multiple, robust populations is a key component of conservation of the species,” the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote in their rule.  

The Fish and Wildlife Service also declined to grant critical habitat space to two species the center were hoping would be granted critical habitat space — the small anchialine pool shrimp and the loulu palm, a type of palm tree endemic to the island of Hawaii.

In their rule, the service suggests that if pool shrimps and loulu palms were included in the critical habitat protection, which would require describing their location, they might become targets for people looking to collect and sell the similar-looking Hawaiian red shrimp for the aquarium trade, and rare palm dealers looking to harvest and sell loulu palms.  

The center highlights in their statement that the U.S. Department of Defense’s Pōhakuloa Training Area on the island — the only place where a perennial herb called mā‘oli‘oli is found — was excluded from the critical habitat rule. Instead, an area on an adjacent strip of land in the Pu'u Anahulu Game Management Area was designated as critical habitat despite objections from the state. 

In a comment made to the Service by the U.S. Army at Pōhakuloa summarized in the service’s ruling, the Army says that wildfires pose a greater risk to the Pu‘u Anahulu area than to the māʻoliʻoli at the army’s training area, and because of that they would have to implement more conservation measures to minimize the risk fires have to the critical habitat “as a result of military training at PTA.”   

“Hawaii’s forest, grassland and coastal habitats are breaking down before our very eyes under the relentless onslaught of invasive species and destructive development,” Phillips wrote. “My heart is breaking at the loss of so many of our plants and animals that can be found nowhere else on the planet. We have to make restoring these critical habitat areas our highest priority.”

Categories / Environment

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