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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.”

Humpback Whales Recovering – 9 of 14 Population Segments Removed from Endangered Species List

Endangered humpback whales in nine of 14 newly identified distinct population segments have recovered enough that they don’t warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries said today. International conservation efforts to protect and conserve whales over the past 40 years proved successful for most populations. Four of the distinct population segments are still protected as endangered, and one is now listed as threatened.

Humpback whales off Maui

Humpback whales off Maui

Commercial whaling severely reduced humpback whale numbers from historical levels, and the United States listed all humpback whales as endangered in 1970.  NOAA Fisheries worked nationally and internationally to identify and apply protections for humpback whales. The International Whaling Commission’s whaling moratorium, imposed in 1982, played a major role in the comeback of humpback whales, and remains in effect.

“Today’s news is a true ecological success story,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Whales, including the humpback, serve an important role in our marine environment. Separately managing humpback whale populations that are largely independent of each other allows us to tailor conservation approaches for each population.”

Humpbacks removedTwo of the four populations that remain endangered are found in U.S. waters at certain times of the year. The Central America population feeds off the West Coast, while the Western North Pacific population does so in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands. The Mexico population – listed as threatened – also feeds off the West Coast of the United States and Alaska.

Two separate, complementary regulations filed today maintain protections for whales in waters off Hawaii and Alaska by specifying distance limits for approaching vessels. All humpback whales remain protected in U.S. waters and on the high seas under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, regardless of their ESA status.

B-Roll: Humpback Whales and Behavior from NOAA Fisheries on Vimeo.

Public Comment Period Reopened on Proposal to Designate Critical Habitat for Three Plant Species on Hawai‘i Island

U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01), a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, announced the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will hold an additional public informational meeting on a proposal to designate almost 19,000 acres of land on the Big Island as critical habitat. USFWS will also reopen the public comment period until September 3, 2013.

Mezoneuron Kavaiense. Photo credit: C. Harrington/USFWS

Mezoneuron Kavaiense. Photo credit: C. Harrington/USFWS

“I am pleased USFWS will continue to seek community input about this proposal and help address some of the public’s unanswered questions,” said Hanabusa. “I had a very productive meeting with Director Dan Ashe last month about this issue, and I appreciate his support in establishing a positive relationship between USFWS and affected stakeholders. We are committed to finding a compromise that provides for our communities and protects our native species.”

On the Big Island, USFWS has proposed designating approximately 18,766 acres of land as critical habitat for three endangered plant species. More than 1/3 of the proposed lands are in private ownership and about 12,000 acres are owned by the State of Hawaii.

A public meeting was held on May 15, 2013, but interested parties were left with unanswered questions and concerns. The newly announced second meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 7, 2013 at the West Hawaii Civic Center from 3-5 p.m.

For more information about the critical habitat proposal and the draft economic analysis, click here: http://www.fws.gov/pacificislands/.

AnnouncementAnnouncement

 

Oahu Man Busted for Harassing Monk Seals on Rabbit Island

An O‘ahu man was sentenced to a $1,000 fine and 80 hours of community service in Kaneohe District Court after being cited by Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) enforcement officers for illegally landing on Manana island. Also known as Rabbit island, it is a wildlife sanctuary that is closed to the public at all times.

Seals are protected under state and federal endangered species laws and are known to haul out on Manana to rest. Large prominent signs are posted on the island noting it is a sanctuary off-limits to visitors.

Travis Kane

Travis Kane, 19, was observed and photographed throwing rocks at a seal on the island on January 14, 2012. DLNR Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) officers followed and stopped Kane, a passenger on a personal water craft at the Kailua boat ramp, and cited him for illegal landing on the island and harassment of a monk seal. The man pleaded no contest at his court arraignment in May.

“We are strengthening our efforts to educate the public — kayakers, stand-up paddlers, fishers, boaters, beachgoers included — that it is a violation of state and federal law, subject to state penalties, to harass, harm or injure monk seals, which are an endangered species,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR Chairperson. “These efforts include working with communities and “Makai Watch” groups, ocean recreation companies, and the visitor industry.

“It also includes consistent effort, again with community participation, to enforce these laws and seek proper penalties. There is no excuse for harming or harassing a monk seal. Anyone witnessing monk seal harassment, abuse or killing of a seal, is asked to call DOCARE at 643-DLNR or the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement at 1-800-853-1964. Working together we can protect our small population of these native seals that are important to our culture and ecosystem.”

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Seeks Comments on Draft Plan and EIS

The National Park Service is pleased to announce the availability of the draft plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement  (DEIS) aimed at protecting and restoring native ecosystems by managing non-native ungulates (hoofed mammals) within Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park.

The purpose of the draft plan/DEIS is to develop a comprehensive and systematic framework for managing non-native ungulates that supports long-term ecosystem protection, promotes recovery and restoration of native vegetation and other natural resources, and protects and preserves cultural resources.

Endangered plants such as this Ka‘ū silversword, thrive in ungulate-free areas (NPS photo)

A copy of the draft plan/DEIS is available for review and download online at http://www.parkplanning.nps.gov/havo_ecosystem_deis.  Hard copies of the draft plan/DEIS are also available for review at the park’s Kīlauea Visitor Center, and state public libraries on the Island of Hawai‘i.  A limited number of CDs and hard copies may be obtained by calling the park Superintendent’s office at (808) 985-6026. The project website for Protecting & Restoring Native Ecosystems by Managing Non-Native Ungulates Plan/EIS is at http://www.parkplanning.nps.gov/havo.

Hawai‘i supports a rich diversity of native plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.  Many of these unique species are rare and in danger of becoming extinct.  Ungulates are an issue of concern because Hawaiian ecosystems evolved without large mammalian herbivores and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of non-native ungulates.

Non-native goats, pigs, sheep, mouflon sheep, axis deer and cattle destroy habitat, degrade watershed, inhibit native forest regeneration, cause loss of sensitive native species (including state and federally listed threatened and endangered species), and have potential to damage archeological sites and cultural landscapes.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes provides habitat for more than 50 native species that are federally listed as threatened, endangered, or are candidates for either list. Among these are the Ka‘ū silversword, Hawai‘i creeper, and nēnē.

The park has actively managed non-native ungulates since the 1920s, allowing for the recovery of native species in many areas of the park.  The park’s current EIS addressing ungulate control is more than 30 years old. The new plan/EIS will provide a park-wide framework to guide non-native ungulate management activities over the next decades that considers the recently acquired Kahuku unit, new invasive species challenges, and current NPS policy and guidance.  Using the initial comments received by the public and incorporating input from a team of scientists, the National Park Service has developed a range of management alternatives.  The no action and four action alternatives were analyzed for impacts on natural and cultural resources and the broader human environment, and the analysis is included in the draft plan/EIS now available for public comment.

The public is encouraged to comment by attending upcoming public open house meetings, or by submitting written comments electronically on the project website, or by mail.

Three public open house meetings are scheduled on the Island of Hawai‘i: Mon., Dec. 5 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the park’s Kīlauea Visitor Center, Tues., Dec. 6 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Nā‘ālehu Community Center, and Wed., Dec. 7 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Kona Outdoor Circle Educational Center. The meetings will include various small stations where NPS staff will be available to answer questions and record comments. Directions to these locations are posted on the project website.

Written comments can be submitted at http://www.parkplanning.nps.gov/havo_ecosystem_deis or by mailing correspondence to: Cindy Orlando, Superintendent, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, PO Box 52, Hawaii National Park, HI 96718.

All written responses must be postmarked or transmitted no later than midnight MST (8 p.m. HST), Jan. 20, 2012.

Landmark Legal Agreement May Add Hawaiian Honeycreeper and 70 Other Hawaii Animals to Federal Endangered Species List

Media Release:

A landmark legal agreement was finalized today between the Center for Biological Diversity and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requiring the agency to make initial or final decisions on whether to add hundreds of imperiled plants and animals to the federal endangered species list by 2018.

In return, the Center will withdraw its legal opposition to a May 2011 agreement between the agency and another conservation group, which the Center argued was too weak, unenforceable and missing key species in need of protection.

The agreement was jointly submitted today to U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan (Washington, D.C.) for approval.

“Today’s agreement will fast-track protection for 757 of America’s most imperiled but least protected species. The walrus, wolverine, golden trout and Miami blue butterfly will go extinct if we don’t take action right away to save them,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Center wrote scientific listing petitions and/or filed lawsuits to protect the 757 species as part of its decade-long campaign to safeguard 1,000 of America’s most imperiled, least protected species. Spanning every taxonomic group, the species protected by today’s agreement include 26 birds, 31 mammals, 67 fish, 13 reptiles, 42 amphibians, 197 plants and 381 invertebrates.

They occur in all 50 states and several Pacific island territories. The top three states in the agreement are Alabama, Georgia and Florida, with 149, 121 and 115 species respectively. Hawaii has 70, Nevada 54, California 51, Washington 36, Arizona 31, Oregon 24, Texas 22 and New Mexico 18.

“The Southeast, West Coast, Hawaii and Southwest are America’s extinction hot spots,” said Suckling. “Most of the species lost in the past century lived there, and most of those threatened with extinction in the next decade live there as well.”

Individual species included in today’s agreement include the walrus, wolverine, Mexican gray wolf, New England cottontail rabbit, three species of sage grouse, scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper (‘I’iwi), California golden trout, Miami blue butterfly and Rio Grande cutthroat trout — as well as 403 southeastern river-dependent species, 42 Great Basin springsnails and 32 Pacific Northwest mollusks.

While today’s agreement encompasses nearly all the species on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s official list of “candidates” for Endangered Species Act protection, two-thirds of the species in the agreement (499) are not on the list. This corresponds with the conclusion of numerous scientists and scientific societies that the extinction crisis is vastly greater than existing federal priority systems and budgets.

“Scientists and conservationists have a critical role to play in identifying endangered species and developing plans and priorities to save them. The extinction crisis is too big — too pressing — to rely on government agencies alone,” said Suckling.

Lists of the 757 species broken down by state, taxonomy, name and schedule of protection are available at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/species_agreement/index.html. Highlighted species are below.

Species Highlights

American wolverine: A bear-like carnivore, the American wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family. It lives in mountainous areas of the West, where it depends on late-spring snowpacks for denning. The primary threats to its existence are shrinking snowpacks related to global warming, excessive trapping and harassment by snowmobiles.

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies petitioned to list the wolverine as an endangered species in 1994. It was placed on the candidate list in 2010. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2013 and finalize the decision in 2014 if warranted.

Pacific walrus: A large, ice-loving, tusk-bearing pinniped, the Pacific walrus plays a major role in the culture and religion of many northern peoples. Like the polar bear, it is threatened by the rapid and accelerating loss of Arctic sea ice and oil drilling.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list it as an endangered species in 2007. It was placed on the candidate list in 2011. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2017 and finalize the decision in 2018 if warranted.

Mexican gray wolf: Exterminated from, then reintroduced to the Southwest, the Mexican gray wolf lives in remote forests and mountains along the Arizona/New Mexico border. It is threatened by legal and illegal killing, which has hampered the federal recovery program, keeping the species down to 50 wild animals.

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies petitioned to list it as an endangered species separate from other wolves in 2009. It is not on the candidate list. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2012 and finalize the decision in 2013 if warranted.

Black-footed albatross: A large, dark-plumed seabird that lives in northwestern Hawaii, the black-footed albatross is threatened by longline swordfish fisheries, which kill it as bycatch.

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies petitioned to list this albatross as an endangered species in 2004. It is not on the candidate list. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection, determine it does not qualify, or find that it is warranted but precluded for protection in 2011.

Rio Grande cutthroat trout: Characterized by deep crimson slashes on its throat — hence the name “cutthroat” — the Rio Grande cutthroat is New Mexico’s state fish. It formerly occurred throughout high-elevation streams in the Rio Grande Basin of New Mexico and southern Colorado. Logging, road building, grazing, pollution and exotic species have pushed it to the brink of extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list it as an endangered species in 1998. It was placed on the candidate list in 2008. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2014 and finalize the decision in 2015 if warranted.

403 Southeast aquatic species: The southeastern United States contains the richest aquatic biodiversity in the nation, harboring 62 percent of the country’s fish species (493 species), 91 percent of its mussels (269 species) and 48 percent of its dragonflies and damselflies (241 species). Unfortunately, the wholesale destruction, diversion, pollution and development of the Southeast’s rivers have made the region America’s aquatic extinction capital.

In 2010, the Center completed a 1,145-page, peer-reviewed petition to list 403 Southeast aquatic species as endangered, including the Florida sandhill crane, MacGillivray’s seaside sparrow, Alabama map turtle, Oklahoma salamander, West Virginia spring salamander, Tennessee cave salamander, black warrior waterdog, Cape Sable orchid, clam-shell orchid, Florida bog frog, Lower Florida Keys striped mud turtle, eastern black rail and streamside salamander.

Only 18 of Southeast aquatic species are on the candidate list. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will issue initial listing decisions on all 403 plants and animals in 2011.

Pacific fisher: A cat-like relative of minks and otters, the fisher is the only animal that regularly preys on porcupines. It lives in old-growth forests in California, Oregon and Washington, where it is threatened by logging.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list the fisher as an endangered species in 2000. It was placed on the candidate list in 2004. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2014 and finalize the decision in 2015 if warranted.

Cactus ferruginous pygmy owl: A tiny desert raptor, active in the daytime, the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl lives in southern Arizona and northern Mexico. It is threatened by urban sprawl and nearly extirpated from Arizona.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list it as an endangered species in 1992. It was protected in 1997, then delisted on technical grounds in 2006. The Center repetitioned to protect it in 2007. It is not on the candidate list. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2011 and finalize the decision in 2012 if warranted.

42 Great Basin springsnails: Living in isolated springs of the Great Basin and Mojave deserts, springsnails play important ecological roles cycling nutrients, filtering water and providing food to other animals. Many are threatened by a Southern Nevada Water Authority plan to pump remote, desert groundwater to Las Vegas.

In 2009, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list 42 springsnails as endangered species, including the duckwater pyrg, Big Warm Spring pyrg and Moapa pebblesnail. None are on the candidate list. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will issue initial listing decisions on all 42 species in 2011.

Scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper (ʻIʻiwi):

Scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper (ʻIʻiwi): This bright-red bird hovers like a hummingbird and has long been featured in the folklore and songs of native Hawaiians. It is threatened by climate change, which is causing mosquitoes that carry introduced diseases — including avian pox and malaria — to move into the honeycreeper’s higher-elevations refuges. It has been eliminated from low elevations on all islands by these diseases.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list it as an endangered species in 2010. It is not on the candidate list. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2016 and finalize the decision in 2017 if warranted.

Ashy storm petrel: A small, soot-colored seabird that lives off coastal waters from California to Baja, Mexico, the ashy storm petrel looks like it’s walking on the ocean surface when it feeds. It is threatened by warming oceans, sea-level rise and ocean acidification.

The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list it as an endangered species in 2007. It is not on the candidate list. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2013 and finalize the decision in 2014 if warranted.

Greater and Mono Basin sage grouse: Sage grouse are showy, ground-dwelling birds that perform elaborate mating dances, with males puffing up giant air sacks on their chests. The Mono Basin sage grouse lives in Nevada and California. The greater sage grouse lives throughout much of the Interior West. Both are threatened by oil and gas drilling, livestock grazing, development and off-road vehicles.

The Center for Biological Diversity and allies petitioned to list the Mono Basin sage grouse as an endangered species in 2005. It was placed on the candidate list in 2010. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2013 and finalize the decision in 2014 if warranted.

The greater sage grouse was petitioned for listing in 2002 and placed on the candidate list in 2010. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2015 and finalize the decision in 2016 if warranted.

Miami blue butterfly: An ethereal beauty native to South Florida and possibly the most endangered insect in the United States, the Miami blue was thought extinct after Hurricane Andrew in 1992 but rediscovered in 1999. It is threatened by habitat loss and pesticide spraying.

It was petitioned for listing as an endangered species in 2000 and placed on the candidate list in 2005. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list it on an emergency basis in 2011. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2012 and finalize the decision in 2013 if warranted.

Oregon spotted frog: The Oregon spotted frog lives in wetlands from southernmost British Columbia through Washington and Oregon to northernmost California. It is threatened by habitat destruction and exotic species.

The Oregon spotted frog was placed on the candidate in 1991. The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list it as an endangered species in 2004. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will propose it for protection (or determine it does not qualify) in 2013 and finalize the decision in 2014 if warranted.

32 Pacific Northwest mollusks: The Pacific Northwest is home to a unique diversity of mollusks found nowhere else on Earth. With colorful names like the evening fieldslug, cinnamon juga and masked duskysnail, these species recycle nutrients, filter water and provide important prey for birds, amphibians and other animals. Many species threatened by logging, pollution and urban sprawl.

In 2008, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to list 32 Washington, Oregon and Northern California mollusks as endangered species. None are on the candidate list. Under today’s agreement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will issue initial listing decisions on all 32 species in 2011.

Hawaii’s List:

Hawaii

A’e
Aiea
Ala’ala’wai’nui’
Alani (Melicope christophersenii)
Alani (Melicope hiiakae)
Alani (Melicope makahae)
Anchialine pool shrimp (Metabetaeus lohena)
Anchialine pool shrimp (Palaemonella burnsi)
Anchialine pool shrimp (Procaris hawaiana)
Anchialine pool shrimp (Vetericaris chaceorum)
‘Anunu
Awikiwiki
Band-rumped storm petrel, Hawaii population
Blackline megalagrion damselfly
Bracted phyllostegia
Christella boydiae
Crimson Hawaiian damselfly
‘Ena’ena
Haha (Cyanea asplenifolia)
Haha (Cyanea calycina)
Haha (Cyanea kunthiana)
Haha (Cyanea lanceolata)
Haha (Cyanea obtusa)
Haha (Cyanea tritomantha)
Ha’iwale (Cyrtandra filipes)
Ha’iwale (Cyrtandra kaulantha)
Ha’iwale (Cyrtandra oxybapha)
Ha’iwale (Cyrtandra sessilis)
Hala pepe (Pleomele fernaldii)
Hala pepe (Pleomele forbesii)
Hawaiian fescue
Holei
Hulumoa
Kampuaa’a
Kaulu
Kolea (Myrsine fosbergii)
Kolea (Myrsine vaccinioides)
Ko’oko’olau (Bidens amplectens)
Ko’oko’olau (Bidens campylotheca ssp. paihoiensis)
Ko’oko’olau (Bidens campylotheca ssp. pentamera)
Ko’oko’olau (Bidens conjuncta)
Ko’oko’olau (Bidens micrantha ssp. ctenophylla)
Kopiko
Lanai tree snail (Partulina semicarinata)
Lanai tree snail (Partulina variabilis)
Makou (Ranunculus hawaiensis)
Makou (Ranunculus mauiensis)
Many-flowered phyllostegia
Ma’oli’oli (Schiedea pubescens)
Ma’oli’oli (Schiedea salicaria)
Nanu
Newcomb’s tree snail
Nohoanu (Geranium hanaense)
Nohoanu (Geranium hillebrandii)
Oceanic Hawaiian damselfly
Ohe
Orangeblack Hawaiian megalagrion damselfly
Platydesma cornuta var. cornuta
Platydesma cornuta var. decurrens
Pomace fly
Popolo
Reedgrass (Calamagrostis expansa)
Reedgrass (Calamagrostis hillebrandii)
Remy pilokea
Scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper
Stenogyne cranwelliae
Takeuch’s lip fern
Wawae ‘iole (Microlepia strigosa var. mauiensis)
Wawae ‘iole (Phlegmariurus stemmermanniae)
Wekiu bug

Syd Singer on the Continuation of the Mangrove Lawsuit

Commentary by Syd Singer:

A public meeting was scheduled by Mayor Kenoi to discuss the controversial mangrove eradication and poisoning project that has now left over 30 acres of mangroves dead and rotting along the Puna coastline. The meeting, scheduled for July 31 at the Pahoa Community Center, was the first chance given to the public to comment on and question the project.

But the meeting never happened. Malama o Puna, the organization spearheading the poisoning, backed out at the last minute, causing the County to cancel the meeting, according to Hunter Bishop, spokesperson for Mayor Kenoi.

The public is left with an ugly, poisoned shoreline and still without any voice on the issue.

The 30 acres of mangroves now stand dead and defoliated along the sensitive Big Island coastline, left to rot over the years and blighting what had been beautiful, treasured areas. Wai Opae (which is the popular snorkeling area in Kapoho), Pohoiki (also called Isaac Hale Beach Park), Paki Bay, and Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo have all been poisoned.

There was no public hearing or public comment period allowed for this mangrove eradication project, which was done with the cooperation of the DLNR, County of Hawaii, and Big Island Invasive Species Committee. There was no environmental assessment or environmental impact statement prepared. For most residents who frequent these areas, awareness of the project began when they noticed the mangroves were dying and brown scum was floating on the water. Heaps of dead leaves from the defoliated trees still line the high tide mark.

A public protest against the mangrove poisoning was held in January, 2010, and the controversy was reported in the media. But Malama o Puna refused to stop the poisoning.

A citizen lawsuit was filed in February to get an injunction to stop the poisoning until an environmental assessment was done. Despite requests that they stop their work, Malama o Puna continued with their poisoning, killing 7 acres of mangroves at Pohoiki and 3-4 acres of mangroves at Onekahakaha Beach Park in Hilo while the lawsuit proceeded.

A ruling has just been made on the lawsuit, which continues in Third Circuit Court in Hilo. The Court has ruled that it is too late to sue Malama o Puna for not doing an environmental assessment. This does not mean Malama o Puna did not have to do an environmental assessment. It just means that it was too late to have the issue considered by the Court.

Attorneys for defendants Malama o Puna, DLNR, and County of Hawaii tried to get the case dismissed, claiming that private citizens cannot sue for violations of the Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, or Hawaii Pesticide law. But the Court reaffirmed that the public has a right to a clean and healthy environment, as provided in the Hawaii Constitution Article Xl, Section 9, and that all citizens have a right to sue to protect those environmental rights.

The lawsuit now will focus on whether Malama o Puna violated clean water regulations and threatened endangered species that are known to use the poisoned areas. No further hearings are scheduled at this time.

Ironically, mangroves may be the best species for Hawaii’s subsiding coastline, especially given the climate change predictions coming from the Hawaii government and environmental groups that the oceans are rising. Mangroves protect the shoreline from erosion, storm surge, and tsunamis. In fact, mangroves have been shown to save lives.

Unfortunately, while recognizing climate change is the environmental issue of our time, some environmental groups and government agencies have not yet realized the implications climate change has for “invasive” species control. Climate change is an inconvenient truth for those who want to save native species that thrived in the past but which may not survive in today’s and tomorrow’s altered environment. Introduced species which grow well here may belong to the Hawaii of the future. Today’s “invasive” species may become tomorrow’s “invaluable” species.

This especially applies to mangroves, considered by the Nature Conservancy in its Summer, 2010 magazine as one of the most valuable and beneficial species in the world. Mangroves may prove critical to shoreline protection in Hawaii as the oceans rise and the land sinks.

While their presence in Hawaii is controversial, as is the use of powerful poisons to kill the mangroves and leave them rotting along the shoreline, the public will not have an opportunity to comment on this eradication. And while the County meeting was too little, too late, it was at least an attempt to include the public. But now, even that attempt has been poisoned.

For more information, see www.mangrovelawsuit.com.

Sydney Ross Singer

P.O. Box 1880, Pahoa, Hawai 96778