At a Glance
• Although Hawai`i accounts for less than 0.2% of the area of the
United States, about one-third of all federally endangered bird species
are found solely in Hawai`i. With about half of Hawai`i under private
ownership, private landowners play an important role in the
conservation of the state’s high priority birds.
|Image: View from the northern slope of Mauna Kea looking down on the Hamakua coast of Hawai`i Island by Robert Stephens|
—Farmer Fidencio Sánchez, Maricao, Puerto Rico
One-third of all birds on the federal endangered species list are native to Hawai`i. Ten of these species and subspecies may already be extinct. Although many private lands in Hawai`i are devoted to agricultural production and have lost much of their value for native birds, other private tracts are extremely important bird habitat. The owners of those tracts are key partners in Hawaiian bird conservation.
Avian malaria and avian pox are deadly to many Hawaiian native birds. Spread by nonnative mosquitos, these diseases are less prevalent above 4,500 feet elevation. Many endangered forest birds rely on higher-elevation habitat. Averaged across Hawai`i, private lands support approximately 27% of upland forest bird distribution, including `Akikiki and `Akeke`e on Kaua`i, and `Akiapōlā`au and Hawai`i Creeper on Hawai`i Island. Bird species that frequent lower elevations have higher distributions on private lands (such as an average of 44% for O`ahu, Kaua`i, and Hawai`i `Elepaios combined). The `Io (Hawaiian Hawk) is fairly common on open ranchlands on Hawai`i Island, with nearly 60% of its range on private lands. More than 42% of Hawai`i’s wetlands are on private lands, giving private landowners a major stake in the protection and recovery of endangered waterbirds, such as the `Alae ke`oke`o (Hawaiian Coot) and Ae`o (Hawaiian Black-necked Stilt).
|Palila by Michael Walther
|Protecting Parrotbills on Ranchlands in Maui|
|On the windward slopes of the massive volcano Haleakalā, the Haleakalā Ranch Company partnered with The Nature Conservancy to create a permanent conservation easement, the Waikamoi Preserve, on 5,000 acres of the company’s ranchland in east Maui. The reserve is home to a significant proportion of the remaining population of Kiwikiu (Maui Parrotbill), which is down to fewer than 500 birds. Through fencing and feral pig control, native plant diversity and abundance improved, with benefits for other native birds, including Maui Alauahio and Ākohekohe.|
|Image: Maui Parrotbill by Eric VanderWerf, Pacific Rim Conservation|
In Hawai`i, private landowners have formed innovative and important alliances with state and federal landowners to work cooperatively toward conserving watersheds for communities, agriculture, native ecosystems, and culturally important plants and animals. Eleven watershed partnerships consisting of 71 entities (most of them private landowners) protect and manage 2.2 million acres of forested watersheds across 6 islands. These partnerships protect native bird habitat by constructing fences to control nonnative grazing animals, controlling invasive plants, conducting reforestation, and educating the public about the value of these lands.
Two landowners own entire islands in Hawai`i. Bruce and Keith Robinson own the island of Ni`ihau (47,700 acres) as the Ni`ihau Ranch. Access to the island is restricted and the land is managed for agriculture and ranching. Radio telemetry data suggest that central Ni`ihau wetlands are important for the endangered Koloa (Hawaiian Duck). Larry Ellison owns 98% of the island of Lana`i (approximately 88,000 acres), which hosts the second largest known Hawaiian Petrel colony.
As Hawai`i's largest private landowner with over 367,500 acres, the Kamehameha Schools/Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate are important conservation partners in multiple watershed partnerships, including the Three Mountain Alliance on Hawai`i Island. One alliance project on the flanks of Mauna Loa is restoring māmane forest that could be recovery habitat for the endangered Palila. Kamehameha Schools also owns the Keauhou Ranch on Hawai`i Island, where a koa forest restoration is benefitting many species of native birds. The San Diego Zoo leases a portion of the ranch as the site of the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center, a captive breeding facility for native bird species, such as the `Alalā (Hawaiian Crow), which is extinct in the wild.
|Ungulate-proof fencing protects regrowing māmane forest on the
slopes of Mauna Loa on Hawai`i. Photo by Colleen Cole.
Guam, Northern Mariana Islands
On Guam, private lands constitute more than 50% of all land and contain 42% of bird distribution. On the Northern Mariana Islands, private lands constitute 20% of all land and contain 82% of bird distribution. Throughout the Mariana Islands, invasive species pose dire threats to nine endangered bird species. The nonnative brown tree snake has extirpated nearly all native forest birds on Guam and is spreading in the Northern Mariana Islands.
On the island of Rota, private lands host about 20% of the range of an experimental Guam Rail population (mostly on ranches) and 30% of the range of Mariana Crow. Private landowners are helping to control feral cats that prey on rails. Three landowners have hosted releases of 18 rails. The Rota Landowner Incentive Plan for the Mariana Crow is awarding $500 to landowners who have crows on their land, do not harass them, and allow biologists to conduct crow monitoring and feral cat control.
Other projects are reintroducing native birds where they have
vanished. On Cocos Island off the southern tip of Guam, 16 rails were
released after the successful
eradication of rats. A Safe Harbor Agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Government of Guam, and Cocos Island Resort, Inc. allows management activities for Guam Rail reintroductions on private land. The Marianas Avifauna Conservation Project has been working to propagate native bird species at U.S. mainland zoos and introduce or translocate native species to islands in the Mariana Archipelago deemed safe from the brown tree snake. So far Bridled White-eye and Golden White-eye have been established on Sarigan.
Puerto Rican shade coffee farm photo courtesy of USFWS
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
In Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, 16 endemic bird species
are listed under the Endangered Species Act, and the vast majority of
lands are private (92% and 88% respectively). Species such as
Elfin-woods Warbler and Puerto Rican Parrot are losing habitat as
forests are cleared for agriculture, wind farms, and communication
towers. Among 25 obligate island forest species, the average
distribution on private land is approximately 90%. The endangered Plain
Pigeon, with about 99% of its population on private lands, is
Private landowners are involved in projects to benefit Puerto Rican birds. The USFWS and the Natural Resources Conservation Service are working with coffee farmers to improve habitat for Elfin-woods Warbler and Puerto Rican Parrot. The program supplies seedlings and technical assistance to help farmers convert their farms to shade coffee, benefiting the warbler and parrot, as well as the endangered Puerto Rican Sharp-shinned Hawk and the Puerto Rican Nightjar. Given the high conservation importance of private lands in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin islands, greater investment in private landowner programs is vital to the future of birds there. Because of these efforts, the United States is playing a significant role in the conservation of West Indian birds and biodiversity.