Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Oahu critical habitat
plan gets mixed reviews

The plan sets aside 29 percent
of Oahu for endangered plants

By Diana Leone

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's proposed designation of 29 percent of Oahu as critical habitat for 99 endangered plant species was praised yesterday by some Oahu residents and criticized by others.

Waianae resident Albert H. Silva testified at a public hearing that he'd like to see fewer than the proposed 500 or more acres of his 1,200-acre Ohikilolo Makua Ranch designated as critical habitat.

"Knowing that area, I'm sure that there is endangered plants," he said, "but I thought that the line was a little too low," meaning that at lower elevations the cattle and fires have destroyed plants that the Fish and Wildlife Service seeks to protect. He said he'd support some critical habitat area, but not as much as is proposed.

Another Waianae resident, Allen Stack Jr., said half his land is proposed for critical habitat and that "there is no manpower to oversee and manage the land" to save endangered plants. He proposed instead that seeds of endangered plants be cultivated.

Others testifying called for the lines that designate critical habitat to stay where they are, or even grow bigger.

Most of the 111,364 acres proposed for critical habitat is in the Waianae or Koolau mountains at elevations that do not conflict with agriculture or urban uses. The service has been forced by a lawsuit by environmental groups to name critical habitats as areas needed for endangered species plants to recover.

Hearings have been held on each island to gather public reaction to the designations, which would affect 20 percent of the state. Before final designations are made, the service must conduct an economic impact study for each island. Oahu and Big Island studies haven't been released.

The plants that the service seeks to save from extinction once covered large areas of Oahu, but "they have been squeezed into little areas," said Dr. Fred Dodge of the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. "It's very important that we not just practice hospice ecology" -- setting aside areas for plants to die, he said. "The only way we can do it (restore the endangered species) is to have a larger area of critical habitat."

Eric Enos reminded Fish and Wildlife staff conducting the hearing that "all of nature is interconnected" and that Hawaiians in Waianae have been working hard for the past 25 years to restore land "that has been pretty much bust up."

Fish and Wildlife Service

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