It has been almost 30 years since federal courts first ruled that an endangered native Hawaiian bird trumps introduced, environmentally destructive game animals on government property.
(Image: The yellow-headed palila. Credit: Jack Jeffrey.)
But after 30 years and three federal court orders, feral sheep and goats, along with cattle, continue to graze down the habitat of the little yellow native bird, the palila.
Fences to exclude Mouflon sheep and the other species from the habitat atop the Big Island have either never been properly built, or have been allowed to fall into disrepair, says the Conservation Council for Hawai'i.
The organization is calling on government to do the right thing. In its summer newsletter, council director Marjorie Ziegler writes:
“Conservation Council for Hawai'i is calling on the state and federal government to accelerate recovery actions to save the palila, an endemic Hawaiian forest bird currently found only on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawai'i.
“Recent surveys indicate that the palila is rapidly declining in number. If the current trend continues, the palila could go extinct in 5 years.”
One key to palila survival is the mamane, a hardy tree that is a legume. Its lemon-yellow flowers and seeds feed palila, which also nest within its branches. Palila chicks are fed native caterpillars that are collected from mamane seed pods. Grazing animals like mamane too, and readily eat seedlngs—which has led to a dramatic decline in the mamane forest.
While the loss of the food and shelter of mamane is not the only factor in palila decline, it is believed to be a big one. Fire, weeds, and disease are others.
Most of the critical habitat for palila is within the state's Mauna Kea Forest Reserve.
The Conservation Council for Hawai'i is asking residents to call on their legislators—state and federal—to protect the palila. Its specific requests are that the government:
--Comply with the three palila court orders and remove all feral sheep, mouflon, and feral-mouflon hybrid sheep, and feral goats from palila critical habitat;
--Secure funding to build and maintain a mouflon-proof fence around the lower-boundary of palila critical habitat secure funding for palila recovery actions, including habitat restoration, captive rearing and release, invasive species removal, predator control, and research;
--Repair and maintain the fence around the Pu‘u Mali palila mitigation parcel and remove sheep and cattle immediately.
For more information, see Ziegler's report at http://conservehi.org/pg-newsletters/newsletters-pdfs/2008-sum.pdf.
© 2008 Jan TenBruggencate