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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 15, 2010

New climate report details extreme risk to Isle birds

By Diana Leone
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Hawaii akepa is one of the species that will benefit from habitat enhancements at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

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Hawai'i's native birds are among the most likely of any U.S. region to be harmed by ongoing climate change, a new report on the "State of the Birds" shows.

A stunning 93 percent of native Hawaiian birds have medium or high vulnerability to climate change, according to the sweeping 2010 report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with government and private conservation groups.

It's the second time in as many years that the coalition of bird conservation agencies has highlighted the unique plight of Hawai'i's native birds among America's bird populations.

Effects of climate change considered by the report include projected rise in sea level and air temperatures, loss of nesting and feeding grounds for birds and increase in mosquito-borne illnesses.

The report is based on data gathered over 40 years and projected forward using conservative estimates of the effects of global warming, its authors say.

"Climate change is one of the greatest if not the greatest environmental challenges of our time," the Fish and Wildlife Service's Paul Schmidt said during a national media teleconference last week releasing the study.

The study's authors call for those concerned with bird survival to work cooperatively with government agencies, landowners and private interests to improve whole ecosystems. The result is better for birds, other plants and animals and for humans, they say.

Among the potential effects of climate change, Schmidt said, are longer and hotter fire seasons, deeper and longer droughts, more intense floods, rising sea levels and changing precipitation patterns.

"Birds are excellent indicators of the health of our environment, and right now they are telling us an important story about climate change," said Kenneth Rosenberg of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


President Obama's proposed fiscal 2011 budget has increased investment in science and conservation work that will help bird species directly, in addition to those that focus on reducing America's carbon footprint, Schmidt said.

The emphasis on Hawai'i birds in last year's "State of the Birds" report helped the state garner $2 million of a total of $3 million in new funding nationwide for endangered birds.

That money will be used to help improve habitats for the Hawaiian crow, or 'alalā, on the Big Island with a mind to eventually reintroducing captive-bred birds into the wild. The 'alalā only exists in captivity.

Habitat enhancements in an area immediately south of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park also will benefit the 'akiapōlā'au, a bright yellow Hawai'i honeycreeper, and the Hawai'i 'akepa, birds that live in the same area.

The work that will be done in that area follows a familiar theme for enhancing Hawai'i ecosystems, said Hawai'i Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman Ken Foote: fencing out non-native pigs and goats, removal of invasive plants and replenishing of native plants and removal of predators such as rats and mongooses.

But for some ocean birds like the Laysan albatross, which has huge nesting colonies in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, a rising ocean that takes away their nesting habitat will literally mean they have nowhere to go.

About 40 percent of Midway Island's albatross nesting area would vanish if sea levels projected to rise 7 inches by 2090 (the low end of projections) instead rise 6 feet (the high projection), noted Hawai'i Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Barbara Maxfield.

The "State of the Birds" report is a collaboration among federal and state wildlife agencies and scientific and conservation groups including the American Bird Conservancy, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Klamath Bird Observatory, the National Audubon Society, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The full report can be seen at www.stateofthe birds.org.