Haleakalā National Park to move forward with plan to reduce the transmission of avian malaria in forest birds
News Release from National Parks Service, March 23, 2023
KULA, Hawaii—National Park Service (NPS) officials announced today that they will move forward with a plan to reduce the transmission of avian malaria to threatened and endangered forest birds by suppressing invasive mosquito populations.
The NPS will use an incompatible insect technique (IIT) which consists of repeatedly releasing incompatible male mosquitoes into the wild to reduce the reproductive potential of female mosquitoes in the project area.
The release of these male mosquitos, primarily using drones and occasionally helicopters and ground methods, must be conducted repeatedly over time to achieve and maintain significant suppression of the mosquito populations.
By issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Suppression of Invasive Mosquito Populations to Reduce Transmission of Avian Malaria to Threatened and Endangered Forest Birds on East Maui Environmental Assessment (EA), the park concludes the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and documents the agency’s decision with the selection of the Proposed Action in the EA that will be implemented.
The environmental assessment for the project was available for public review between December 6, 2022, and January 23, 2023, with a total of 853 pieces of correspondence received. A summary of the public comments along with agency responses is included in Attachment A of the FONSI document.
The EA and FONSI are available on the NPS Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) project site at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/HALE-mosquito under the “Document List” link on the left side of the page.
The Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), a cooperating agency on this project, is preparing its own finding covering actions on state-managed and private lands within the project area.
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DLNR NEWS RELEASE-ENDANGERED FOREST BIRDS TO RECEIVE PROTECTION FROM AVIAN MALARIA
News Release from DLNR, Mar 25, 2023
(HONOLULU) – Friday, the state Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) unanimously approved the Final Environmental Assessment (EA) to employ landscape-scale mosquito suppression in critical forest bird habitat to reduce mosquito populations in the dense, wet forests of east Maui.
The purpose of this project is to prevent the extinction of threatened and endangered forest birds. Avian malaria, a fatal disease, is the primary cause for the dramatic decline for six remaining species of Hawaiian honeycreepers: ʻiʻiwi, Maui ʻalauahio, Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi, ʻapapane, kikiwiu, and ʻākohekohe. For critically endangered species, like kiwikiu and ʻākohekohe, the increasing presence of invasive mosquitoes has put them on a trajectory for extinction within the next two to ten years.
The mosquitos that spread avian malaria are unable to successfully reproduce in cold environments, thus, these honeycreepers have been able to persist in high elevation native forest habitat on east Maui. Increasing temperatures associated with climate change are allowing mosquito populations and avian malaria to expand into these high elevation native forests where some of the last populations of these forest birds remain.
The DLNR and the National Park Service (NPS) jointly produced the EA which proposes using a proven method known as Incompatible Insect Technique (ITT) to control invasive mosquitoes in the forests to reduce the incidence of avian malaria, which is fatal.
IIT has been used successfully worldwide to limit the human health impacts of mosquitoes and to reduce populations of the southern house mosquito, which spread avian malaria. The technique uses a naturally-occurring bacteria called Wolbachia. Male mosquitoes, with an incompatible strain of Wolbachia bacteria, are released to mate with wild female mosquitoes that lay eggs that do not hatch. The result is much smaller populations of mosquitoes. Male mosquitoes do not bite and cannot spread diseases.
The EA reviewed the potential impacts of the proposed project, which would address parts of Haleakalā National Park, several forest reserves managed by DLNR, and private land parcels in east Maui. The comprehensive 300-page-long assessment considered the impacts of taking no action, an analysis of cultural resources in the project area, and addressed specific comments provided by community members on an earlier draft.
Based on the assessment, the NPS announced on March 23 that it would issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the project, clearing the way for ITT to proceed on federal lands within the project area. Friday’s BLNR decision allows the project to also move forward on proposed state and private parcels.
“This is an emotional issue for people,” said BLNR Chair Dawn Chang. “These birds are part of our cultural and ecological heritage, and I think everyone wants to see them protected in the right way. Whether in support or opposition, we appreciate everyone who provided their manaʻo on this topic so the board could make an informed decision on the adequacy of the EA. What we do know is that taking no action, will put these valuable manu or birds at further risk of extinction.”
Both DLNR and the NPS are members of Birds Not Mosquitoes, a collaboration of state, federal, and private non-profit partners working to save Hawaiian honeycreepers from extinction.
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