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More funds needed to save native birds


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POSTED: Saturday, March 21, 2009

An expansive national analysis of data by the Interior Department singles out Hawaii's native birds as facing high risks of extinction due to loss of their habitats.

While the report presents a disturbing view of the islands' avian population, it also showed how conservation and habitat protection have been successful in saving some species.

The health of birds reflects the soundness of the natural world that provides human inhabitants with clean water, air, soils and other needed resources.

The report found that more bird species in Hawaii are vulnerable to extinction than anywhere else in the United States. One-third, or 31 species, are endangered, placing the islands at the “;epicenter of extinctions and near-extinctions.”;

Despite this, state and federal agencies spent only 4 percent of available funds to help native birds recover, $30.6 million between 1996 and 2004 compared to $722 million on the continent. This must change.

Dwindling numbers are primarily due to habitat destruction, forests and other lands lost to development, invasive plant and animal species and diseases. The swift drop in Mauna Kea's palila population — from 6,600 in 2002 to fewer than 2,200 in 2008 — is attributed to feral sheep that graze on mamane seed pods, the bird's favored food.

Hope for the palila and other native birds lies in restoring habitat. At the Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, installing fences, controlling invasive plants, removing pigs and planting native trees have increased Hawaii creeper and akiapolaau populations.

But without adequate funding, birds will continue to disappear, their loss a prelude to a loss of the resources humans need to thrive.