The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the designation of nearly 53,000 acres of land on the islands of Kaua`i and Ni`ihau as critical habitat for 83 endangered and threatened plant species. The area covered by the designation is half that originally proposed, after the agency took note of concerns raised by hunters and Navy leaders from the adjacent Pacific Missile Range Facility.
Critical habitats as defined in the Endangered Species Act are areas essential for an endangered or threatened species to recover and that require special management or protection.
Included in the new rule which goes into effect on March 31 are approximately 52,549 acres of land on the island of Kaua`i and 357 acres on Ni`ihau that are owned by the Federal government, the State of Hawai`i and various private parties. The rule creates 217 single-species critical habitat units on Kaua`i and 1 unit on Ni`ihau, which overlap to form 17 larger, multi-species units.
“Now that we have published this final rule, I want to particularly thank the people of Kaua`i for their active involvement in its development,” said Anne Badgley, Pacific regional director for the Fish and Wildlife Service, in a recent press release. “During the past 3 years, they have attended workshops and public hearings, met with us on the ground, and submitted many written comments. We know we have a better document because they were willing to take the time to get involved.”
A proposal of the rule was published in January 2002 and was followed by a period of review and public comment combined with field visits that helped identify areas that were not essential to the conservation of a species. This process eventually led to a 50 percent reduction in the land acreage included as critical habitat in the final rule.
“In some cases, we learned that an area had been developed or a land use had changed, making it inappropriate for the plants,” said Paul Henson, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Other areas were eliminated because they were not as important for the recovery of the species as other sites.”
The final rule, published February 28, 2003, summarizes and responds to public comments made about the earlier proposed rule. During the public meetings, concern was expressed about possible limits on hunting opportunities.
“The Service supports game hunting on Kaua`i and Ni`ihau both as a recreational and historical use and as a source of food,” Henson said. “We met with numerous members of the hunting community to address their concerns. The final rule eliminates some public hunting areas proposed as critical habitat because they don’t provide the best habitat for these plants.”
The designation of land as a critical habitat does not set up a refuge or a preserve, but only applies to situations where a federal permit or funding is involved.
The U.S. Navy was concerned that portions of their Pacific Missile Range Facility were located within a critical habitat in the proposed rule. After visits to the area, the size of the critical habitat was reduced in the final rule, leaving about 177 acres of the Missile Range facility within its boundaries.
“The dune system that extends from Polihale State Park through the base may be one of the best intact coastal dune systems remaining in the main Hawaiian Islands, and portions of the Pacific Missile Range Facility are essential for recovery of this species,” Henson said. “We tried to address the Navy’s concerns by minimizing or avoiding impacts to military operations to the best of our ability.”
Kaua`i has higher levels of plant diversity and endemic plants than other Hawaiian islands because it is older and relatively more isolated. However, human land use on the island from the early Hawaiians to the present agricultural and pasture uses, plus the introduction of non-native plant species has led to the reduction of native vegetation.
Most of the plant species included in the new rule persist in areas with steep topography such as cliffs and steep slopes that prevented agricultural development and limited the encroachment of nonnative plants and animal species.
The final critical habitat rule titled “Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Final Designation or Nondesignation of Critical Habitat for 95 Plant Species From the Islands of Kaua`i and Ni`ihau, HI; Final Rule” was published in the Federal Register. The report includes maps and detailed descriptions of the critical habitats and the plants they contain.
This and other information about the newly designated critical habitats can be found at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website. Hardcopies of the rule may be obtained by calling the Honolulu office of the Fish and Wildlife Service at (808) 541-3441.