by Diane Ware
Moku Loa Group has recently asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to keep the `io on the Endangered Species List (ESL) and to change their focus from ‘individual species’ to ‘protecting shared habitats.’ This approach will not only bring greater protection to all endangered and threatened species, but will also protect Hawaiian forest ecosystems. The Hawai`i Island County Council is close to approving a resolution to also ask USFWS to keep the `io on the ESL due to its cultural significance and development pressures to remove forest ecosystems for agriculture and residential use.
“A federal report released March 19, 2009 highlighted the perilous state of Hawai`i’s avian population, noting nearly all native bird species are in danger of becoming extinct.” (Associated Press) “More bird species are vulnerable to extinction in Hawai`i than anywhere else in the country, yet in most cases critical habitat has not been identified due in part to Hawai`i’s small share of federal funds for Endangered Species ,,, only 4% of the Bush administration’s spending on Endangered Species recovery went to Hawai`i birds.” (Daren Schroeder, Director, American Bird Conservancy)
Rather than de-list the `io at this time, the Sierra Club Moku Loa Group urges USFWS to adopt the new “holistic” approach proposed by former Interior Secretary, Dirk Kempthorne, at an island health conference in Honolulu in October 2008. This “ecosystem” based approach addresses the common threats that occur across these ecosystems so we can more effectively focus our conservation efforts on restoring the functions of shared habitats. This approach will be particularly valuable if it is found that the native bee population, which pollinates native plants is endangered; as petitioned recently by the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
Furthermore, the MLG supports Earth Justice’s recent suits filed to secure protection of more than two hundred Hawai`i species and “…look beyond the individual animals and plants and protect the places where these species live.”
Natural and man-made threats may not be significant singly; but if several occur concurrently along with continuing degradation/loss of habitat, the impact could be devastating due to the fact that the `io’s current range is still one island. Another important factor is the `io’s relatively low reproductive potential. The birds are monogamous, produce only one egg per nest; and according to Stone and Pratt (Hawai`i’s Plants and Animals) “Not all individuals nest every year … young birds remain in the nest for two months … adults feed the young five to eight months. A species that has such a low reproductive potential and comparatively low total number (2,500) can quickly decline.” Although data now indicate there are 3,000 ‘io, the recent example of the palila demise makes it clear that populations can change quickly.