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Congress could provide $60M to protect and restore Hawaiʻi's native wildlife

The ʻakikiki bird is endangered and only found on Kauai.
Kauaʻi Forest Bird Recovery Project
The ʻakikiki, or small Hawaiian honeycreeper, is listed as endangered and only found on Kauaʻi.

A proposal making its way through Congress could pump $60 million into wildlife protection and restoration in Hawaiʻi.

If passed, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act could provide $1.3 billion each year to states across the country to manage species with the greatest needs.

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the measure, and it is now with the U.S. Senate for consideration.

This comes as Hawaiʻi, which is often referred to as the “endangered species capital of the world,” grapples with an extinction crisis.

Of the more than 1,600 endangered and threatened species in the country, Hawaiʻi is home to nearly 500, representing the largest share among all states. California is second with nearly 300 and Alabama is third with about 150.

Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to remove 23 species off the endangered species list due to extinction. Nine of those species — eight birds and one plant — were endemic to Hawaiʻi.

Alex Wang
The ʻākohekohe, or crested honeycreeper, is critically endangered and endemic to Maui Nui.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources also found that although Hawaiʻi makes up just one percent of the nation’s land mass, it is home to 44% of the country’s endangered and threatened plant species.

“When one of these species goes extinct, a part of that system that enables our natural environment to thrive goes missing,” said Ulalia Woodside, executive director of the Hawaiʻi and Palmyra program at the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit that works to conserve and protect lands and waters. “And not only do we lose out on that ecological function … we also lose a part of our identity and our stories and our history, and what makes us unique as a place.”

The additional federal funding would provide much-needed support to local wildlife efforts, she said.

But Woodside said there is still more work needed, including larger-scale efforts to address climate change, curb greenhouse gas emissions, protect watersheds and restore habitats. That would help to ensure that our native wildlife can survive and thrive in the “only home they know,” she said.

As a kumu hula, Woodside also pointed out that our native wildlife are important to Hawaiʻi’s culture and heritage. That is often shown through moʻolelo (stories), mele and hula about our wildlife, including dances performed at the Merrie Monarch Festival.

“Every time that song is danced again and the story is told again, those that get to participate in that storytelling, they strengthen that recollection and they strengthen that tie to Hawaiʻi and to place,” she said. “And that’s really fundamental to our knowledge of understanding just how important our relationship to Hawaiʻi is … and to continue to pass that knowledge on because we’re going to care about what we know and what we get to experience.”

Jayna Omaye was a culture and arts reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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