by Diane Ware, Outings Chair
The Moku Loa Group has submitted comments in support of proposed critical habitat for three endangered plant species in the Kona area. The proposed areas include seven units totaling approximately 18,766 acres (7,597 hectares) on the island of Hawai‘i. The three species (Bidens micrantha-ko’oko’olau; Menzoneuron kavaiense-uhiuhi; and Isodendrion pyrifolium-wahine noho kula) occur in the same lowland dry ecosystem and share the same threats from development, fire, and nonnative ungulates and plants.
Approximately 55 percent of the area being proposed as critical habitat is already designated as critical habitat for other plants and the Blackburn’s sphinx moth. Of the total acreage identified, 64 percent is located on state lands.Â Some of the state lands are earmarked for development.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may recommend that development projects offset habitat loss by acquiring, restoring, and managing other suitable habitat in perpetuity. We are hopeful that developers will respect and place value on conserving this rare native dryland ecosystem and support the Service’s and/or County’s recommendations.
Waikaku’u South Kona Property
The Moku Loa Group supports the acquisition of Waikaku’u Ranch by the County Land Fund. In May 2013, Judge Ibarra ruled that permitting the development of the property violated the Kona Community Development Plan and failed to uphold the county’s constitutional duty to protect natural resources. The natural resources of Waikaku’u Ranch include native mesic forest, the watershed created by this old-growth forest, and the ocean below. Sierra Club members have documented ‘ohi’a with 3′-4’ diameters, hapu’u i’i, ala’alawainui, ie’ie and kopiko on the property.Â This type of dense understory is crucial for native birds and for the future release of ‘alala. The last wild ‘alala were found in the South Kona McCandless Ranch area, less than 10 miles from this property.
Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project
The Group has volunteered several weekends of reforestation, seed collection, and green pod collection for the Mauna Kea Forest Restoration Project, which seeks to expand bird habitat for the endangered palila. According to an article in Biological Conservation (2012) authored by Paul C. Banko, et al., the palila population has decreased 79% between 2003 and 2011 due to habitat degradation by feral ungulates and prolonged drought. The only solution to the drought problem is to increase the density of mamane trees, remove mouflon sheep from the habitat, and plant in areas of low mamane regeneration. We plan to sponsor a program early next year highlighting the plight of the palila, followed by another service project.