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Feds invest $1m in endangered Hawaiian, Pacific Island plant protections

LIHU‘E — It seems the Biden administration’s eyes are on the ‘aina.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced a $5.1 million federal investment to aid in the recovery of endangered species, with approximately $1 million dedicated to native Hawaiian and Pacific Island plants.

The announced projects are the first from the $62.5 million for recovery implementation provided through the Inflation Reduction Act, which provided USFWS a total of $125 million for recovery planning and implementation.

“I’m thrilled the service is finally addressing the historic funding shortfalls for these critically endangered animals and plants,” said Stephanie Kurose, senior endangered species policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“We’ve been fighting for years to ensure butterflies, freshwater mussels, desert fish and Hawaiian plants remain part of our natural heritage. This initial investment provides a much-needed lifeline to these species that have slipped through the cracks,” she said.

A total of $111,000 will be invested in an expansion of rodent control efforts on Kaua‘i, O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island. Opportunistic omnivores, rats, mice and other invasive rodents chew away at Hawai‘i’s wildlife, creating consequences for the ecosystem at large.

“Rodents can eat most plant parts, including bark, seedlings, fruits and seeds, and kill them,” said Lauren Weisenberger, USFWS plant recovery coordinator.

“Most often when seeds are consumed, they are destroyed. This applies not only to endangered plants, but to all native plants, and consequently degrade the native forests and habitats that support endangered species.”

The USFWS will also receive $156,500 for improvements and planning for the state’s mid-elevation nursery facilities. Nurseries are critical to plant conservation efforts, providing safe haven for native species as external factors, such as climate change and invasive species, ravage their environment.

“We hope to learn where gaps and improvements are needed to reach our recovery goals, and develop a plan to fill those gaps,” Weisenberger said. “Funding will also support infrastructure repairs and purchase equipment already identified by our partners that are needed to maintain and increase the number of listed plants currently being grown.”

An additional $324,500 is set to protect wild and reintroduced endangered Hawaiian plants from feral ungulates, or hoofed mammals, such as pigs, sheep, deer and goats. Known to trample, dig up and eat Hawai‘i’s flora, these invasive animals contribute significantly toward the degradation of both native plants and the habitat as a whole. Conservationists in Hawai‘i commonly erect fencing around endangered plant populations in order to prevent ungulate access.

Nearly half of the investment, however, will be put toward efforts on Guam and Rota, the southernmost island in the Northern Mariana Islands. A total of $408,000 in funding will be dedicated toward Serianthes nelsonii, known as hayun lagu on Guam and tronkon on Rota. One of the largest native trees in the Mariana Islands, hayun lagu grows as tall as 118 feet — although its numbers on both islands are few.

“On Guam, there is one mature tree with several immature plants growing below its canopy,” Weisenberger said. “That tree was significantly damaged during Typhoon Mawar and it is unknown if it will persist. There are several dozen mature trees on the island of Rota.”

On both islands, conservationists collect as many seeds as possible, grow saplings in a nursery and outplant them back into the forests. Still, the outplanted trees have struggled to continue growing, largely due to invasive invertebrates, like snails, snacking on the plants. The federal investments will fund further research on hayun lagu in an attempt to better understand how to maintain healthy populations.

In addition to the $1 million dedicated to the Hawaiian and Pacific Islands, the USFWS will receive approximately $4 million to protect endangered butterflies, moths, freshwater mussels and southwest desert fish on the U.S. mainland.

“This infusion of Inflation Reduction Act funding will allow the service to achieve impactful conservation for listed species that have been historically underfunded,” said USFWS Director Martha Williams. “By undertaking strategic, prioritized recovery implementation actions … we are moving hundreds of endangered and threatened species closer to recovery.”


Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or
Source: The Garden Island

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