Only 3 poouli left
State declines to breedBy Gary T. Kubota
endangered bird species
WAILUKU -- State conservation officials are recommending that nature be allowed to take its course in the breeding of the endangered Hawaiian bird po'ouli, although there may be only three left in the Maui wilderness.
Officials say they may capture and turn loose a female so that she is closer to a male in the east Maui wilderness.
But they're opposed to capturing the honeycreepers and breeding them in captivity.
State forestry administrator Michael Buck yesterday said some people hoped the state would turn toward captive propagation of the po'ouli, but that state officials felt this alternative was too risky.
"Such direct attempts at establishing a captive flock with so few birds could cause extinction rather than recovery," Buck said.
State Land Department Director Michael Wilson said preservation efforts should be focused on improving native habitat.
The Hanawi Natural Area Reserve is home to the po'ouli and five other rare forest birds, as well as 18 rare plants, various snail species and an unknown number of native insects, Wilson noted.
The reserve has the highest number and density of endangered forest birds in the state.
Wilson described the chances of saving the bird as slim because it is living in a less-than-favorable environment.
"The plight of the po'ouli should not be looked at in isolation from the challenges that have shaped our endangered-species crisis statewide," Wilson said.
"The reasons for its decline are the same factors that have led to the decline and extinction of several of Hawaii's forest birds."
The Land Department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are expected to issue a joint assessment about the bird in January.
Officials say the reasons for the decline in po'ouli numbers since 1973 from almost 200 to three are not fully understood.
But scientists believe the decline stems partly from alien predators, alien birds competing for food, and the degradation of the environment by wild pigs.
Department officials say some expanded habitat management actions should be considered in the final environmental assessment, including more bait stations to poison alien predators and an acceleration in fencing.
Officials also recommend controlling alien birds that may compete with the po'ouli for food.
Wilson said the department will be working closely with the Peregrine Fund to bring in any po'ouli eggs for artificial incubation and hatching.
In an attempt to increase the chances of breeding in the wilderness, state officials will be searching for additional po'ouli, which are characterized by a black face.
Officials also will be trying to refine their technique for determining if a bird is male or female.
Buck said the department hopes to obtain federal funds for the po'ouli project.
Wildlife advocates note that while 26 percent of the endangered and threatened species in the United States live in Hawaii, less than 6 percent of the federal money for preserving endangered species is spent in the state.