Tuesday | October 24, 2017
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Protecting Hawaii’s birds a priority

The International Union for Conservation of Nature concluded its World Conservation Congress in Honolulu last week having set policy goals for global sustainability in the face of climate change and increasing populations.

It also created a number of small-scale resolutions, including one aimed specifically at protecting Hawaii’s bird species.

“Every conservationist who’s paid any attention to the United States whatsoever is aware that Hawaii is a focal area of extinction,” said Russ Mittermeier, executive vice chairman and former president of Conservation International, a co-introducer of the resolution.

Hawaii’s birds “represent a significant proportion of endangered birds in the U.S., and they don’t really get resources proportionate to that,” he said.

In 2014, Mittermeier said, Hawaii received about 4 percent of all government funding directed toward bird rescue.

“It’s an immediate need,” he said. “It’s not something that can wait five, 10 years.”

“A lot of us have been here … trying to find these birds for ourselves, and we’re not able to find the ones we expected to find,” said co-introducer Mike Parr, chief conservation officer for the American Bird Conservancy. “That was worrying, knowing the trends were downhill.”

Kauai is experiencing the most rapid downhill trends, he said. This is partially because the island’s birds are more prone to avian malaria. A paper published this month in Science Advances found that climate change had warmed Kauai to the point where mosquitoes could range throughout its mountains and bite birds who previously had been unaffected by the disease.

The resolution calls for expediting the “development of all appropriate techniques to control or eradicate invasive alien mosquitoes.”

“If we don’t deal with the mosquito problem soon, we’re going to see some extinctions,” Parr said.

IUCN resolutions serve as recommendations for future actions.

“It really depends how they’re used,” Mittermeier said. “We’re hoping to get attention from the governments and from (nongovernment organizations).”

The Honolulu WCC was the first to take place in the United States. It was also the most well-attended, with more than 10,000 people participating.

“It seems an appropriate time to draw attention to the crisis that’s going on right here,” Parr said.

“We’re right here in Hawaii and birds are going extinct right around us, and we need more attention to it. It’s not just losing a bird that people don’t necessarily always see themselves, but it’s something that’s part of the culture and the forest they live in.”

“There are lots of great people working here to save these birds and they just need more help,” he said.

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.


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