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    October 2017
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‘I‘iwi Receives Protection Under the Endangered Species Act

Once one of the most common forest birds in the Hawaiian Islands, the ‘i‘iwi, also known as the scarlet honeycreeper, will be protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that listing was warranted based on a review of the best information available for the ‘i‘iwi, gained through exhaustive research, public comments and independent scientific peer reviews.

In the past, ‘i‘iwi could be found from the coastal lowlands where they foraged for food to the high mountain forests where they nested. Today, ninety percent of the ‘i‘iwi population is confined to a narrow band of forest on East Maui and the windward slopes of the island of Hawaii, between 4,265 and 6,234 feet (1,300 and 1,900 meters) in elevation. The birds are virtually gone from the islands of Lanai, Oahu, Molokai and west Maui, while the population on Kauai is in steep decline.

“In recent years, the ‘i‘iwi population has been in sharp decline, due to threats from habitat loss, invasive species and avian diseases, particularly avian malaria,” said Mary Abrams, project leader for the Service’s Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. “These threats have affected all forest birds, not just the ‘i‘iwi. Conservation that benefits the ‘i‘iwi will undoubtedly benefit other Hawaiian forest birds.”

Avian malaria, carried by invasive mosquitos, is the primary driver in the decline in of the ‘i‘iwi population, and has already caused the decimation of dozens of other Hawaiian forest birds. The disease kills approximately ninety-five percent of infected ‘i‘iwi. Mosquitos, which are not native to the Hawaiian Islands, breed and thrive at lower and warmer elevations where they infect birds like the ‘i’iwi with avian malaria and pox.

“‘I‘iwi have virtually disappeared from any habitat where mosquitoes are found,” said Abrams. “This has caused their range to shrink dramatically – they are almost entirely limited to higher elevation ‘ohi‘a forests for their habitat, dietary, and nesting needs.

Higher and cooler elevation ‘ohi‘a forests, where mosquitoes do not thrive, remain the only habitat for the ‘i‘iwi, but even those areas are under threat. As temperatures rise, mosquitoes, and the avian diseases they carry, are able to survive at higher elevations and spread upwards into the mountains, further constricting the ‘i‘iwi’s range.

‘I‘iwi are dependent for their survival on forests of native ‘ohi‘a. On the island of Hawaii, home to 90 percent of the remaining ‘i‘iwi population, those ‘ohi‘a forests have been under attack from rapid ‘ohi‘a death, an invasive tree pathogen.

“Working with the state, our conservation partners and the public will be crucial as we work to recover the ‘i‘iwi, said Abrams. “The Service is committed to building on our record of collaborative conservation to protect Hawaii’s native species.”

The Service’s final listing rule will be published in the Federal Register on Sept 20, 2017, and will become effective on Sept 20, 2017. Next steps include development of a recovery plan, which will be bolstered by input from other federal and state agencies, other conservation partners and the public.

More information, including the final listing, can be found at http://www.fws.gov/pacificislands/.

Iconic Hawaiian Bird Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection

In response to a 2010 petition from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed protection for the ‘i‘iwi as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This bird, a bright-scarlet, nectar-feeding Hawaiian honeycreeper, was once widespread across all of the main Hawaiian Islands, but is now primarily found at higher elevations on East Maui and the island of Hawaii. The number one threat facing the species is climate change, which is driving the spread of highly lethal mosquito-borne diseases.

The ‘i‘iwi. (Photo by Brett Hartl, Center for Biological Diversity.)

The ‘i‘iwi. (Photo by Brett Hartl, Center for Biological Diversity.)

“The ‘i‘iwi is a spectacular, iconic Hawaiian bird that desperately needs Endangered Species Act protection to survive,” said the Center’s Loyal Mehrhoff. “But the good news is that if we protect it, it has a good shot at dodging extinction. A recent study by the Center found that the majority of U.S. birds with endangered species protection are improving.”

The ‘i‘iwi (Drepanis coccinea, also known asVestiaria coccinea) is a medium-sized honeycreeper that lives in native forests of ohia and koa. It is one of more than 50 species of honeycreepers that evolved, in a spectacular example of adaptive radiation, from a single finch-like bird that colonized Hawaii 2.5 million to 4 million years ago. Two out of three Hawaiian honeycreepers are now extinct, and most of the remaining honeycreepers are either already listed as threatened or endangered, or are declining. The ‘i‘iwi has seen a 92 percent decline on Kauai in the past 25 years and a 34 percent decline on Maui. As temperatures increase with global warming, so does the spread of introduced mosquito-borne diseases like avian malaria — which is almost 100 percent fatal to the bird.

“Protected areas that we once thought could save the ‘i‘iwi are now expected to be uninhabitable in the future because of the expanding range of mosquitoes and malaria,” said Mehrhoff. “So it’s crucial for the ‘i‘iwi to get the help it needs to avoid extinction and recover. This will require removing or greatly reducing the threat from introduced mosquito-borne diseases, as well as restoring and protecting native Hawaiian forests.”