Endangered Hawaiian species gain protections
Several plants and one insect endemic to Hawaii's Big Island finally have critical habitats thanks to a push from conservationists.
by Candace Cheung, Courthouse News, March 28, 2023
HONOLULU (CN) — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed critical habitats for 12 Hawaii Island species, including of several trees, shrubs, and herbs, and one insect, a decade after they first became considered endangered.
The agency will publish a proposed rule on the 12 species on Wednesday, reflecting an agreement made between it and the Center for Biological Diversity to finally assign special conservation areas for the 12 species that are native to not only to the state, but are specifically endemic to Hawaii Island.
The Endangered Species Act requires critical habitats, areas identified as essential for the species’ conservation, to be designated in concurrence with the species being declared endangered.
The species in Wednesday’s proposed rule were first listed as endangered in 2013, but did not have critical habitat designated by 2019, when the Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for being in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The agency and the Center came to an agreement in March 2020 for the designation, prompting the current proposal for 122,277 acres of land on the Big Island of Hawaii to be set aside to help prevent extinction and encourage population growth of the 12 of the original 14 species the Center sued on behalf of.
According to their publication, the agency intends to continue working with the Center, their experts, and the community, especially Native Hawaiians, until the habitats are finalized. The agency included plans in its proposed rule for open meetings to be held over the next several months to gain input from cultural experts, scientists, and the public at large.
“I encourage the community to get involved, to put in their comments and concerns. That will only help the process as we move forward,” Hawaii-based Center for Biological Diversity attorney Maxx Phillips said.
The agency also determined that it was not prudent to designate habitats for two of the species named by the Center in its original complaint. The loulu tree and the anchialine pool shrimp were excluded from habitat designation due to new increased threat from collection.
“Designation of critical habitat would more widely announce the exact locations of these two species to collectors. The publication of maps and descriptions outlining the locations of the species would likely further facilitate unauthorized collection and trade, as collectors would know the exact locations where these species occur,” the agency explained in the publication.
The loulu tree, with its fan shaped palm leaves, is highly coveted in the exotic plant industry. The agency also feared that a recent spike in popularity for a look-alike shrimp in the aquarium trade would prompt collectors to also begin searching out the anchialine pool shrimp.
Phillips said that she understood the exclusion of the palm tree and the shrimp, clarifying that, “Without critical habitats, it is still illegal to harm, harass, injure, kill, so the species don’t lose any protection other than ensuring that habitat is going to be protected predominately against federal action.” She noted that the Center will consult with their plant and animal experts to make sure that the agency’s proposal will be in the best interest of those species.
She did however register concern that, especially in the case of the pool shrimp, habitat protections will be affected by climate change.
Included among the species with newly designated critical habitats are the Hawaiian picture-wing fly, which evolved in close association with and has a close relationship with Native Hawaiian flora; the ko’oko’olau, a flowering herb with medicinal use; and the ma’oli’oli, which Phillips says is unique in its proposed designation, an area next to its natural habitat. The perennial’s natural habitat happens to overlap with a military-owned training area, leading to complexities in its designation.