The Maui News - Weekender
Proposal would make 21,000 acres on Maui ‘critical habitat’ for ‘i‘iwi
Federal agency seeks to protect 275,000 acres on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island for threatened bird
More than 21,000 acres in Kula and East Haleakala are being eyed for designation as “critical habitat” to protect the ‘i‘iwi, an endemic Hawaiian forest bird which is listed as federally threatened.
In total, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is seeking to designate a little more than 275,000 acres on Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island as critical habitat, as those are the islands where the bird is mostly present. Only a few individuals may be found on Oahu, Molokai and West Maui, the service said.
Being listed as federally threatened means a species is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. There were approximately 600,000 ‘i‘iwi left at the time of the bird’s listing, which was in 2017.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 2021 for failing to designate critical habitat for the Hawaiian forest birds, a news release said.
“Protecting the places the ‘i‘iwi calls home will give these beautiful birds their best chance at survival,” said Maxx Phillips, Hawaii director and staff attorney at the center. “It shouldn’t have taken a lawsuit, but the Service made the right call. As our forests fall quiet, federal officials must do everything possible to ensure these birds bounce back and stop sliding toward extinction.”
The ‘i‘iwi belongs to the honeycreeper subfamily and was considered one of the most common of the native forest birds in Hawaii by early naturalists. It was once found from sea level to the tree line across all the major islands. But in the late 1800s, ‘i‘iwi began to disappear from low-elevation forests due to habitat loss and avian diseases.
By the mid-1900s, the species was largely absent from sea level to mid-elevation forests.
The bird is no longer found on Lanai. Remaining larger populations of ‘i‘iwi are restricted to high-elevation forests above 3,937 feet on Hawaii island, East Maui and Kauai because these areas contain temperatures low enough to reduce or inhibit the spread of avian malaria and avian pox, carried by Culex mosquitoes.
An estimated 90 percent of ‘i‘iwi are on Hawaii island, with about 10 percent distributed in East Maui and less than 1 percent on Kauai.
The Center for Biological Diversity said the population of ‘i‘iwi on Kauai is likely to go extinct within 30 years.
Like many native Hawaiian forest birds, ‘i‘iwi have an extremely low resistance to avian malaria with an average 95 percent mortality rate, the center added.
With a critical habitat designation, there will be a requirement that federal agencies ensure, in consultation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, that any action they authorize, fund or carry out is not likely to result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat.
A designation does not affect land ownership or establish a refuge, wilderness reserve, preserve or other conservation area, the service said. It also does not allow the government or public to access private lands.
Of the more than 21,000 acres on Maui potentially becoming critical habitat, portions are owned by the state and federal government, while other areas are under private ownership.
A public informational meeting and public hearing on the designation is scheduled
for 6 to 8 p.m. Feb. 10. It will be held virtually via Zoom. Registration is required to participate and can be done online at empsi.zoom.us/webinar/register/ WN_kg1fCOfUTxOXaznf1ezIig.
Comments on the designation will need to be received or postmarked on or before Feb. 27. To view the proposed designation and to submit comments, visit www.regulations.gov/document/FWSR1-ES-2022-0144-0001. Comments must be received by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on the closing date.
Hard-copy comments can also be mailed to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R1-ES-2022-0144, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, MS:PRB/3W, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 220413803.
All comments will then be posted on www.regulations.gov. This generally means that the service will post any personal information provided by commenters.
For further information, contact Earl Campbell, project leader, at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office, 300 Ala Moana Blvd. Room 3-122, Honolulu, HI 96850, or call (808) 792-9400.