By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Fifteen Big Isle species could receive federal protection based on a proposal expected to be published today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The proposal seeks to place the plants and animals on the national endangered species list, as well as establish almost 19,000 acres of critical habitat for three species, including a yellow flower known as the kookoolau, which is found along the Kohala Coast and is in danger of being wiped out by urban development.
Currently, there are 95 species on the Big Island listed as endangered.
The proposed additions came about as the result of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity seeking speedier protection decisions by the Fish and Wildlife Service concerning species around the country.
Seven of the 15 plants and animals identified on the Big Island had languished on a waiting list since before 2004, with some dating back to the 1980s, said Center biologist Tierra Curry.
“There’s been a backlog of species on the candidate list going back for years,” she said. “Under the settlement, Fish and Wildlife will have to make findings on these species in the next five years.”
Fish and Wildlife employees have been systematically identifying candidates for inclusion on the endangered list since 2010, said Kristi Young, assistant field supervisor for endangered species with Fish and Wildlife.
“Because there are so many species in need of protection in Hawaii, we’re doing an ecosystem approach, going island by island, looking at species’ needs based on their ecosystem type,” she said. “It’s more efficient from a workload standpoint, and biologically it makes more sense as well.”
Last month, the Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a new rule for Oahu species identifying 23 as endangered and designating critical habitat for 124; 38 Maui species were proposed for inclusion on the list in June, with critical habitat designated for a total of 135; and 47 of Kauai’s species were put on the endangered list in 2010, with habitat assigned for 47, Young said.
The species selected are all examples of the amazing diversity of Hawaii’s ecosystems, Curry said.
“Hawaii is home to so many cool species that aren’t found anywhere else on the planet,” she said in a phone interview Tuesday. “They’re something Hawaiians can be proud of. It’s a natural treasure.”
Among the proposed species to be added to the endangered list is the anchialine pool shrimp, which lives only on the Big Island and is so rare that only five individuals have ever been seen.
Anchialine pools are land-locked bodies of water that have underground connections to the sea and show tidal fluctuations in water level. The pool shrimp is threatened by degraded water quality which harms the algae, bacteria and small invertebrates it feeds on, according to a Tuesday press release issued by the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Its body is 2 inches long; it has 2-inch antennae and eyestalks, but no eyes. One of the most primitive shrimp species in the world, it can only swim forward, whereas most shrimp can also swim backward,” the release stated.
Also included is the picture-wing fly, which was discovered in 1968. They are “less than a quater-inch in length, with brownish-yellow bodies, yellow legs and shiny, clear wings with prominent brown spots. They are dependent on one specific host plant to reproduce, laying their eggs only on decaying stems of Charpentiera plants,” the release said.
The fly was once found on five known sites, but today only survives in two places: the Manuka Natural Area Reserve and the Olaa Forest Reserve.
“The fly is threatened by forces that harm its host plant, including browsing by goats, pigs and cattle; invasive plants; fire; drought; and hurricanes. It is also threatened by predation from non-native wasps,” the release reads.
The 13 plants being proposed for protection are threatened by habitat loss, agriculture, urban development, feral pigs and goats, invasive plants, wildfire, hurricanes and drought.
The service is also proposing 18,766 acres of critical habitat for the kookoolau, and to protect two previously listed plants, the wahinenohokula and the uhiuhi, which grow in the same lowland dry areas as the kookoolau. Approximately 55 percent of the area being proposed as critical habitat is already designated as critical habitat for 42 other protected plants and the Blackburn’s sphinx moth.
Curry said she and the other staffers at the Center were “thrilled” with the proposal, as the Endangered Species Act of 1973 has proven to be a powerful and effective tool in protecting endangered plants and animals.
“The Endangered Species Act has been 99 percent effective at preventing the extinction of the plants and animals under its care. I’m hopeful its protection, coming in the nick of time, will be able to save the picture-wing fly, anchialine pool shrimp, and these unique Hawaiian plants,” she said.
Following today’s publishing of the proposal on the federal register website, the public has 60 days to submit comment concerning the plan to Fish and Wildlife, Young said. Meanwhile, staffers at the organization will be working up an economic impact study to ascertain what effects establishing the critical habitat might have. That information and information garnered from public comments will be used to draft the final rule, which could be adopted within a year.
For more details on the proposal, visit http://www.fws.gov/pacificislands/.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.