Friday, December 21, 2001

Ten nene, like the one pictured above, will be released into the wild today to roam the grounds of Puu O Hoku Ranch on Molokai.

Molokai ranch to
host return
of wild nene

An agreement with wildlife
agencies creates a new habitat

By Diana Leone

The release of 10 nene into the wild on Molokai will mark the first return of Hawaii's state bird to that island in more than a century.

The birds, to be released today, will roam Puu O Hoku Ranch under an agreement approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Land & Natural Resources.

"Puu O Hoku Ranch is proud and excited to be making a contribution toward the recovery of an endangered species," said Jack Spruance, ranch manager. "We don't know when the last wild nene on Molokai disappeared, but it was probably more than 100 years ago. Our hope is that our ranch will help ensure they don't disappear again."

The close-cropped grass of a cattle ranch is appealing terrain for nene, according to scientists. Plenty of available water and not too many wild dogs are other advantages of the nene-and-cattle combination.

The birds were raised in a captive flock at the state's Bird Conservation Center in Olinda, Maui, and will be released on the eastern tip of Molokai in the Cape Halawa area.

The Hawaiian goose faced extinction in the 1940s, but captive breeding programs saved the species. Today about 800 nene are found in the wild on the islands of Kauai, Maui and Hawaii. Feral dogs, cats and mongooses are predators of the birds.

The Safe Harbor Agreement between the ranch and the wildlife agencies calls for the ranch to maintain or improve the nene habitat for at least seven years.

"We are really excited about the nene coming back home to Molokai," said Michael Buck, DLNR Division of Forestry & Wildlife administrator. "The majority of good nene habitat is found on private lands being used for cattle grazing, which makes finding partners such as Puu O Hoku Ranch extremely important to the recovery of the species."

Puu O Hoku Ranch could eventually support as many as 75 nene, a significant proportion of the goal of establishing 200 free-ranging nene on Molokai.

Paul Henson, a Fish and Wildlife supervisor, said Safe Harbor Agreements could help a number of endangered species.

"Working hand in hand with the state and private landowners, we can make a huge difference in the survival and even recovery of Hawaii's native plants and animals," Henson said.

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