HONOLULU— In response to a landmark settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected 35 plants and three tree snails on the Hawaiian islands of Molokai, Lanai, Maui and Kahoolawe under the Endangered Species Act.
“Part of what makes Hawaii such a special place is that it is home to some of the most magnificent species on Earth. Endangered Species Act protection will give these extraordinary plants and snails a real shot at survival,” said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist with the Center. “We sought protection for many of these species almost a decade ago, so we’re thrilled they’re finally getting the help they need.”
The plants protected today are a stunning variety of colorful geraniums, sunflowers, bellflowers, vines, shrubs and trees from coastal, lowland, subalpine and cliff environments. They include the hala pepe, popolo, kookoolau, ‘awikiwiki and haha nui, among others. For some of the plant species, only a few individuals survive.
The three mollusks protected today include two species of Lanai tree snail and Newcomb’s tree snail. The snails are found only on wet cliffs where they live on specific host plants and eat fungus and algae. The Lanai tree snails are up to an inch tall and can live for 20 years, giving birth to four to six live young per year.
“We’re elated that these unique species have gained protection, and we urge the Service to finalize critical habitat to make sure they are around for future generations to appreciate,” said Lucienne de Naie, vice-chairwoman of the Sierra Club of Hawaii. “We are especially concerned about the plants that live in the lowland dry ecosystem, the ‘awikiwiki in particular. The Service must continue to recognize the biological and cultural importance of this area and protect these irreplaceable plants from multiple threats.”
The ‘awikiwiki is a gorgeous pink flower in the pea family that is a climbing perennial. It is particularly sensitive to drought, but its resilient seeds rebound into new flowering vines following adequate rainfall.
The species are threatened primarily by habitat loss and by competition and predation from nonnative species such as feral pigs, goats, rats, axis deer and invasive plants and insects. They are also threatened by global climate change and extreme weather events.
The Center first petitioned to protect 20 of the species in 2004. Today’s listing proposal is in accordance with a historic legal settlement between the Center and the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011, which expedites protection decisions for 757 of the most threatened species around the country. So far 76 of those species have been fully protected, including today’s listings. Another 97 have been proposed for protection under the agreement.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Endangered Species Act. The Act has prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the plants and animals under its care and put hundreds of species on the road to recovery.