Fish & Wildlife Proposes Two Birds to ESA List

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed to list as endangered two rare Hawaiian birds, the Akikiki and Akekee, under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The proposal includes listing 48 animals and plants that inhabit the Island of Kauai and will utilize a new ecosystem-based approach to their conservation and the designation of Critical Habitat.

"This is an important victory for the Akikiki and Akekee, which need every bit of help that they can get. Recent population surveys indicate that these species are on the brink of extinction," said George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy. "We absolutely cannot allow these species to become extinct out of lack of interest. The American people can do better."

American Bird Conservancy and Eric VanderWerf, Ph.D., an acknowledged expert on Hawaiian birds, had petitioned the agency requesting protection under ESA for the two very rare birds that live exclusively on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

The current population of the Akikiki is estimated to be less than 1,400 birds, based on surveys conducted in 2007. The population has declined from approximately 7,000 birds in 1970 to 1,400 in 2005. The geographic range occupied by the Akikiki has declined from 88 square kilometers in 1970 to 36 square kilometers in 2000.

The current population of the Akekee is estimated to be 3,500 birds, based on surveys conducted in 2007. The population has declined from approximately 8,000 birds in 2000 to 5,700 birds in 2005. The geographic range occupied by the Akekee was approximately 88 square kilometers in 1970, but surveys in 2007 failed to find the species in many areas where it was previously observed, indicating there has been a range contraction.

The primary threats to the Akikiki and Akekee are habitat loss and degradation caused by invasive alien plants and browsing and rooting by feral pigs, deadly diseases spread by introduced mosquitoes, predation by alien mammals, and catastrophes such as hurricanes.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, the new ecosystem approach to listing and critical habitat designation process is designed to protect multiple species that occur in shared ecosystems and experience common threats. "By addressing the common threats that occur across these ecosystems, we can more effectively focus our conservation efforts on restoring functions of these shared habitats," said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.

The proposal was sent to the Federal Register for publication, which will begin a 60-day public comment period. A final decision on the listings will be made after comments are reviewed and additional study in approximately one year.

Hawaii leads the United States in the total number of endangered and threatened species with 329, and in extinctions -- with over 1,000 plants and animals having disappeared since humans colonized the islands.

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