49 endangered Hawaiian species to gain habitat protections
The US Fish and Wildlife Service agreed today to designate protected critical habitat for 39 endangered plants and 10 endangered animals. The determination comes amid a legal victory stemming from a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity.
The ‘Akē‘akē (band-rumped storm-petrel), anchialine pool shrimp and palms known as Baker’s loulu are in line for habitat protections by June 30, 2027. The Service has until June 30, 2028, to designate habitat for the remaining 46 species
“I’m glad these fragile Hawaiian species will finally get the habitat protections they desperately need to survive,” said Maxx Phillips, the Center’s Hawai‘i director and staff attorney in a news release. “There’s just no way these special plants and animals can recover if we don’t protect their homes.”
Today’s agreement follows the Center’s 2022 lawsuit challenging the agency’s alleged failure to designate critical habitat for these 49 plants and animals. The Center argued that the species, such as the nalo meli maoli — also called the Hawaiian yellow-faced bee — are highly vulnerable to extinction because of their small population size and habitat loss. Habitat protections are now more than six years overdue, according to the Center.
Habitat loss to urbanization, damage from nonnative and invasive species, and wildfires are pushing these vulnerable species toward extinction. These threats are only made worse by the increasing effects of climate change through sea-level rise and coastal inundation.
Many of these species perform important ecosystem services. For example, native flora, especially understory plants such as the six ferns that will receive protection under this agreement, are essential to healthy watersheds and forests. Similarly, nalo meli maoli are important native pollinators, notably in highly threatened coastal habitats.
“Hawai‘i is in the midst of an extinction crisis, and habitat destruction is the number one cause,” Phillips said. “Protecting the places these unique plants and animals require for survival is crucial in our fight to keep them from going extinct.”
‘Akē‘akē: This distinct population of ‘akē‘akē, or band-rumped storm petrel, in Hawaiʻi returns to land from life at sea to mate and breed. Hawaiian mountains provide the perfect habitat for these small, oceanic birds to make burrows as nest sites for their young. Historically, they were common across all the Hawaiian Islands, but their population has declined significantly because of habitat loss.
Cyanea kauaulaensis: This shrub produces bright orange fruit. By the time it was first found in 1989 and identified as a new species in 2012, its habitat was restricted to Kauaula Valley on Maui.
Myrsine fosbergii: These small trees are found in wet, native forests of Oʻahu and Kauaʻi and are easily spotted thanks to their narrow green leaves that end in a dark purple base. Although formerly common, their populations are now limited to about 50 individuals because of habitat destruction by feral pigs and goats.
Nalo meli maoli: Included within the 49 species are seven different species of yellow-faced bees, also known as nalo meli maoli. These bees represent the spectacular rapid speciations that make Hawaiʻi a biodiversity hotspot.