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Friday, January 14, 2000

Endangered ‘alala
may be freed
at new sites

State and federal officials look
at other possibilities for the
Hawaiian crows

By Rod Thompson


HILO -- With critically endangered Hawaiian crows approaching extinction at their last holdout in South Kona, state and federal officials are proposing five new sites to release birds raised in captivity.

Only three crows hatched in the wild remain at McCandless Ranch in South Kona, the only place where they are found.

Twenty-six of the crows hatched in captivity are at facilities on the Big Island and Maui.

The sites proposed for the bird, also known by its Hawaiian name as 'alala, are at Honomalino in South Kona, Puu Waawaa in North Kona, Kapapala in Kau, Kulani prison south of Hilo, and Hakalau north of Hilo.

Star-Bulletin file photo
This is the endangered Hawaiian crow, or 'alala.

Captive releases would also continue at McCandless.

Each of the sites is discussed in an environmental assessment available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Barbara Maxfield, a Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman, said state and federal officials are undecided on a site.

A tabular listing in the environmental study shows Kulani prison, on 10,000 acres of partly forested uplands, has several advantages.

The number of available acres within Kulani, about 4,000, is second only to Kapapala.

Food is more abundant and native vegetation is more intact there than at other sites.

Populations of other native birds are high, unlike at the other sites except for Hakalau.

The number of 'io, Hawaiian hawks, which prey on the 'alala, are lower than at the other sites.

But just when Kulani appears to be the ideal site for the 'alala, the environmental study reveals that the crows have never been seen there in historic times.

The closest they have been spotted is about five miles to the south.

And it's wet at Kulani, 80 to 100 inches of rain a year. 'Alala have been seen in other places with 80 inches of rain, but at McCandless, where they're making their last stand, annual rainfall is 35 to 60 inches.

Still, Kulani is close to Keauhou, which is the Big Island site where the captive birds are being raised.

The State Forestry and Wildlife head, Michael Buck, noted that the Legislature eased one problem by authorizing "safe harbor" agreements for private landowners. The agreements can be designed to avoid restricting use of private lands with endangered species, he said.

Officials are inviting public comment on the proposed sites.

The environmental study can be obtained from Fish and Wildlife. The study will also be online soon at

Comments must be in by Feb. 14.

E-mail to City Desk

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