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Federal agency seeks public input on Big Island habitats

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KAILUA-KONA » The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says it is reopening public comment on a plan to designate nearly 19,000 acres of land on the Big Island as critical habitat for three plant species.

Nearly two-thirds of the land is owned by the state of Hawaii. The proposal includes designating more than 2,800 acres associated with Kamehameha Schools, plus 87 acres associated with the Department of Hawaiian Homelands.

The agency says the plans are threatened by urban development and non-native plants, feral pigs, sheep and goats.

The agency said Tuesday it plans to hear public comments until Sept. 3 on a proposal that includes listing 15 species as endangered. It will also hold an informational meeting Aug. 7 in Kailua-Kona.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said in a statement that there are still unanswered questions about the plan.

"We are committed to finding a compromise that provides for our communities and protects our native species," Hanabusa said.

Hanabusa said she met with the agency’s director, Dan Ashe, last month about the issue.

Wildlife officials say they have to make a decision on whether to list the 15 species as endangered by the end of September.

An economic impact analysis prepared for the agency in April said designating the areas as critical habitat could affect development and transportation projects, including the expansion of a new highway. The analysis said the area doesn’t include any grazing or farming activities, or plans for renewable energy projects.

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