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Editorial | Island Voices

Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve is template for the future

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Recently, the predator-proof fence at Kaena Point Natural Area Reserve on Oahu was completed, after four years of work by state, federal and private partners, creating a haven where nesting seabirds are fully protected from predators such as rats, feral cats and mongoose, and rare plants and insects have a home.

The first fence of its kind in the United States, it stands as a symbol of partnership and commit-ment to conservation of native birds on public land — in this case, land owned and managed by the state of Hawaii.

This is just the type of conservation work lauded in the just-released 2011 State of the Birds Report.This year’s report focuses on the status of native birds on public lands and waters, and it highlights the plight of birds on islands.

Habitat loss, disease and non-native species are chronic threats to native birds. In Hawaii, the impact of these threats is severe: Most of the birds unique to the islands are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and many, if not most, of these are declining.

Half of Hawaii’s total land area is public land, managed by state (35 percent) and federal (16 percent) agencies, and native birds rely overwhelmingly on these lands.

For example, nearly three-quarters of all native forest birds occur on public lands, mostly state lands. Yet in many areas, habitat for native birds is teeming with non-native predators and is steadily degraded by feral goats, pigs, deer and non-native plants such as strawberry guava and yellow ginger.

While there is much work to be done, Kaena Point is not the only shining example of stewardship of native species on public lands in the main Hawaiian Islands:

» Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on the Big Island and the state’s Hanawi Natural Area Reserve on Maui are two of the few places where endangered forest birds are stable or increasing.

» Endangered waterbirds are thriving on Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai.

» The stronghold of the endangered Hawaiian petrel is in Haleakala National Park on Maui.

»Hawaii’s globally significant seabird community, including the world’s largest albatross colony, is protected and managed along with four endangered bird species within the Papahanau­mokuakea Marine National Monument encompassing the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

These sites, however, represent a thin scatter of patches across the map of Hawaii. Together they are not enough to support thriving populations of birds or the habitats they require.

And Hawaii’s birds face even greater potential threats from global climate change. They need whole landscapes of healthy habitat where they can forage, raise their young and interact with other members of their species to be as resilient as possible in the face of future change.

Over the next few years, Oahu’s residents and visitors will experience the restoration of Kaena Point as the numbers of nesting albatross and shearwaters grow, other native birds come to nest, and native plants thrive in this 60-acre jewel at the island’s northwest tip.

I hope that as stewards of Hawaii’s public lands, federal and state agencies will build on this success and others to restore and conserve more of the lands we manage in Hawaii.

Together we must help ensure that Hawaii’s unique and precious birds will be here to enrich the lives of our grandchildren and generations beyond.

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