Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hawaiian hawk healthy enough to remove federal protection?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the public discussion of whether the regal Hawaiian hawk, `io, should be removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

The service proposed the removal in 2008, but delayed action after receiving considerable public testimony on the subject.  See our previous post, from 2008.And another from 2007.

(Image: Hawaiian hawk, or `io. Buteo solitarius. Credit: Jack Jeffrey/USFWS.)
There is some question whether the hawk should ever have been placed on the endangered species list. Current observations suggest the population is stable at about 3000 birds, and has been stable at that level for at least two decades.

It is also true that the hawk was once found across the archipelago, and now, aside from rare and isolated observations, is only on one island, Hawai`i. A naturalist on Captain James Cook’s voyage to the Islands spotted an `io on Kaua`i. Fossil records have located hawk remains on Kaua`i and Moloka`i. See a FWS fact sheet on the hawk for more information:

The language of the USFWS announcement suggests that some of the assumptions made when the bird was listed may have been incorrect. Says the release: “When originally listed as endangered in 1967, the hawk was presumed to occupy only undisturbed, native habitat and its population was thought to be in the low hundreds.  It is now known to occur in a variety of habitat types – at both high and low elevations – that include native forest, nonnative forests, pastures and agricultural lands.”

As early as 1993, the Fish and Wildlife Service was already proposing shifting the hawk’s status from endangered to threatened. At the time, it noted that hawks respond far better to habitat modification—like logging and transitions from native forest to agriculture and pasture, than other native birds.

“The hawk may be one of the few native Hawaiian birds with the versatility to adapt to a changing landscape,” the service wrote at that time.

The 1993 proposed downlisting was never acted upon, and in 2008, the service proposed delisting instead. But it delayed action after hearing from lots of folks on the topic.

“Information gathered during previous comment periods has caused us to reexamine our original proposal. We encourage all interested parties to provide information pertinent to the proposed delisting of the Hawaiian hawk,” said USFWS Pacific Islands field supervisor Loyal Mehrhoff.

The public comment period on the proposed rule to delist the hawk will be open for 60 days. The deadline for submitting comments is April 14, 2014.

For more information see the Fish and Wildlife Service website at, or visit and follow instructions for submitting comments on Docket No. FWS–R1–ES–2007-0024.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2014

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This just seems wrong. What could the motivation to delist the 'io really be? Only 3,000 individuals over only a small part of their historic range seems far from secure to me.

Thank you for bringing this very important issue to light on you wonderful blog!