New protection for habitats


POSTED: Wednesday, October 01, 2008

KAPAA, Kauai » The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, trying a new approach to save endangered and threatened species, wants to fence off remote areas of Kauai to preserve two rare bird species and dozens of endemic plants.

Federal officials are proposing to add 27,674 acres as critical habitat and study threats to the entire area. The area includes 48 species - a fly, 45 plants and two birds - that have been proposed for the federal endangered species list.

For example, instead of putting a fence around a single plant to protect it from feral pigs or goats, federal officials could identify a pristine habitat for a number of species and fence the whole area, said Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“;It is really a unique announcement,”; he added. By putting all of them together, “;it allows us to focus our efforts.”;

The vast majority of the area, which includes portions of the Na Pali Coast, Waimea Canyon, Alakai Swamp and Mount Waialeale, is already designated critical habitat.

But never before has the Fish and Wildlife Service come up with a protection plan for dozens of plants and animals at one time, Hall said. This allows them to spend money a little differently, use their time more wisely, and, hopefully, protect the threatened and endangered species better, officials said.

“;We will try to focus on the most appropriate areas in an ecosystem,”; said Patrick Leonard, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Pacific office, in a conference call. “;Usually, by the time we get to that point, we have few individuals left.”;

The two bird species - akikiki, or the Kauai creeper, and the akekee, a finch-like bird - are both part of the honeycreeper family. Surveys conducted by Bird Life International show numbers of the akekee, found in interior areas of Kauai, have been declining, from about 7,800 in 2000 to possibly 3,500 last year. The akikiki has even lower numbers, with perhaps 1,000 as of last year.

Both birds are found in areas of the Kokee State Park and surrounding state lands.

The new habitat would make up a total of 22 geographic areas in six different ecosystems, including rain forest, moist lowlands and dry cliffs. The majority of the land is owned by the state and already designated as conservation lands. Of the total proposed acres, 1,646 acres are new critical habitat.

Only one private landowner, Alexander & Baldwin, owns a portion of the newly proposed habitat, and they already work with conservation officials to manage their watershed lands in interior sections of Kauai, said Gina Shultz, assistant field supervisor for endangered species with the Fish and Wildlife Pacific office.

All the Kauai species are threatened by ongoing destruction or modification of habitat due to feral ungulates such as pigs and goats, nonnative plants and hurricanes, officials said.