Isle forests are most imperiled in nation
Dwindling habitats put native birds at risk, a report finds
Hawaii's native forests are the most threatened bird habitat in the country, according to a study released yesterday by the American Bird Conservancy.
The conservation group put concern over dwindling Hawaii forests and of seabird nesting areas ahead of other mainland bird habitats.
Thirty Hawaiian birds listed as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and five more are considered at risk by the state, said Scott Fretz, wildlife program manager for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
At least 24 Hawaii native bird species have become extinct since Capt. Cook landed on the islands in 1778, the American Bird Conservancy said in announcing Hawaii's precarious position.
"I was happy to see they're highlighting Hawaiian forest birds and nesting seabirds," Gina Shultz, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Hawaii assistant field supervisor for endangered species, said yesterday. "It draws national attention to Hawaii."
Partnerships among the state, federal wildlife service and private landowners have protected about 5 percent of Hawaii native forest areas in the past decade, Fretz said. Land acquisition and conservation programs being planned now could increase the protection to about 31 percent of native forests in five years, he said.
Projects on the horizon include the purchase of upper Moanalua Valley by the state, providing habitat for the Oahu elepaio, Fretz said.
Another is to put a predator-proof fence around seabird nesting areas of Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve, Shultz said. About 100 fledgling wedge-tailed shearwater chicks were killed by loose dogs there last November.
Colonization, agriculture and logging erased more than half of Hawaii's native forests, the conservancy report said. But current threats include cats, pigs, invasive plants and avian diseases.
One of the most effective things being done to protect native forests is removal of non-native, hooved animals including pigs, sheep, goats and cattle, Fretz said.
Fencing that keeps those animals out helps keep the habitat good for birds and other native plants and animals, and helps protect watershed recharge zones, he said.
"As well as a biological imperative, it makes good economic sense to conserve Hawaii's native habitats," American Bird Conservancy President George Fenwick said in a statement.
Bird watching and other wildlife viewing by 66 million Americans contribute $43 billion annually to the nation's economy, according to a 2006 report by the Outdoor Industry Foundation cited by the conservancy.