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Hawaiian Birds in Peril – Immediate Boost in Conservation Spending Needed

By Steve Holmer, American Bird Conservancy

America is blessed with a spectacular abundance and diversity of birds, with more than 800 species inhabiting the mainland, Hawai`i, and surrounding oceans. Unfortunately, the recently released State of the Birds - United States of America 2009 report, a collaborative effort from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, American Bird Conservancy, and several other non-profit groups, reveals that hundreds of bird species are in decline, and some are threatened with extinction.  However, this report makes clear that if we apply ourselves by investing in conservation, we can save endangered wildlife, protect habitats, and solve the multiple threats that form the root of these bird declines.

State of the Birds finds that the birds of Hawai`i, the birthplace of President Obama, are in the greatest danger. Before human settlement, Hawai`i was home to 113 endemic bird species. Since then, 71 Hawaiian birds have gone extinct. Of the 42 endemic bird species that may remain, 31 are federally listed; several of these are on the brink of extinction, ten have not been seen in years, and two more, the Akikiki and Akekee, are expected to be listed in the coming year.

Much of Hawai`i's native bird habitat has been permanently lost to development, and most of what remains is highly degraded by invasive plants and animals. This crisis received considerable attention at the press conference held by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to release the report, and afterwards by the Hawaiian congressional delegation.

American Bird Conservancy dedicated the most recent issue of Bird Conservation magazine to Hawaiian birds, focusing on specific threats and solutions to the problems. Action must be quickly taken to conserve and restore habitat, and reverse the multiple threats causing Hawaiian bird declines, including the spread of mosquito-borne diseases that have decimated many forest bird populations. We can do this by investing in jobs to remove and fence out invasive animals from conservation areas, studying little-known Hawaiian bird species, and developing new and innovative solutions to stem existing population declines.

We need to act now before it is too late, to ensure that
 future generations of Americans will enjoy the same magnificent diversity of birds that we treasure today. We can solve these problems, but only if sufficient resources are applied to the problem. A study of government spending to conserve endangered species found that Hawaiian birds are not receiving adequate funding. Additional funding for endangered species conservation needs to be allocated by Congress and the Obama Administration to halt this extinction crisis afflicting a place that most Americans assume is still an unspoiled paradise.

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Steve Holmer is a forest advocate and communicator for American Bird Conservancy (http://www.abcbirds.org), which conserves native wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. All photos and graphics by Steve Holmer.