Wednesday, April 18, 2001

Hawaiian fowl
to get improved
Big Isle home

A special plan would move
ducks and nene to Umikoa Ranch

By Rod Thompson
Big Isle correspondent

HILO >> Two Hawaiian ducks and maybe some nene geese will get better living conditions at the Umikoa Ranch north of Hilo under a special land management plan being considered by the state Board of Land and Natural Resources.

The board last week approved release for public review of a "safe harbor" agreement with the ranch. The 2,000-acre ranch is managed by state Sen. David Matsuura.

In the proposed 20-year agreement, the ranch promises to make improvements on about half its acreage, including fencing more than 150 acres of wetlands.

In return the agreement protects the ranch in case of accidental harm to wildlife.

Currently, only two koloa ducks occasionally use the ranch, and there are no nene.

It is hoped more birds will come as the ranch re-creates ponds in low spots in the ground, which probably held water before ranching and the cutting of forests dried the area more than 100 years ago.

The ranch is doing the work in partnership with Ducks Unlimited, a national wetlands conservation organization that provided $377,200, and the U.S. National Resources Conservation Service, which provided $110,000.

Between 100 and 200 genetically pure koloa are believed to remain on the Big Island. In coastal areas the ducks are interbreeding with wild mallards.

It is hoped that the middle-elevation Umikoa site will help protect koloa from interbreeding.

The "safe harbor" agreement is the second of its kind in the state. The first was at Puu O Hoku Ranch on Molokai.

Copies of the agreement can be reviewed at the Division of Forestry and Wildlife, 1151 Punchbowl St., Room 325, in Honolulu. The division also plans to post the agreement online at

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