The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is reopening the public comment period for the proposed downlisting of the Hawaiian stilt, or ae‘o, from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Public comment is now welcome through July 23. The rule was originally available for public comment from March 25 through May 24, but the USFWS decided to offer all interested parties an additional 30 days to comment.
A virtual public meeting and hearing will also be held at 5 p.m. on July 7.
USFWS said the proposal to downlist the aeʻo is “based on the best available scientific information, a thorough analysis of threats and how they have been alleviated, and the ongoing commitment and proven track record of partners to continue managing for healthy aeʻo populations.”
The ESA defines “endangered” as a species that is currently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range and “threatened” as a species that is likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.
“The proposed downlisting of the aeʻo is an example of the power of conservation partnerships between federal, state and private stakeholders under the ESA,” said USFWS in a news release. “Over the past three decades, a strong network of conservation actions throughout Hawaii has resulted in more wetland areas being managed compatible with the species’ needs. The State of Hawaii has been a key partner, along with efforts on National Wildlife Refuges, to protect, manage, and conserve the significant wetland habitats and supporting aeʻo populations over the last 30 years.”
The Hawaiian stilt, or aeʻo, is a slender and graceful wading bird with long, pink legs that occurs on all main Hawaiian islands except Kahoolawe.
The USFWS said it was originally listed as endangered in 1970 due to the destruction of its habitat, along with hunting, introduced predatory animals and disease. Aeʻo today continue to be threatened by non-native predators such as mongooses, cats and rats, along with habitat loss, type C botulism, and the impacts of human activities and climate change.
USFWS has determined, however, that the “imminence, severity, and magnitude of ongoing threats do not indicate the aeʻo is presently in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
Survey data and a recent analysis indicate that the aeʻo population has been at the “stable to increasing” level for several decades in the eight islands where it exists, according to USFWS, and stable population trends are expected to continue into the foreseeable future, as long as predator, water level, and vegetation management continues.
If downlisted, a federal take prohibition would also be removed under certain conditions.
At least one nonprofit group, the Center for Biological Diversity, opposes the delisting of the Hawaiian stilt.
“While the Service, State of Hawaii, and community have made strides in the conservation and recovery of aeʻo, downlisting is premature and unsupported by the best available science,” said the center’s Hawaii director Maxx Phillips in an email. “The proposed rule is in contravention of clear requirements of the Endangered Species Act as none of the required criteria for downlisting have been fully met. A variety of pressing threats, such as climate change, sea level rise, disease, and predation, continue to leave aeʻo in danger of extinction. Now is not the time to strip vital protections away from these incredible birds.”
To submit a comment, visit regulations.gov, and enter docket number FWS-R1-ES-2020-0079 in the search box.
Comments already submitted do not need to resubmitted. The USFWS said its final determination will take all comments and information received into consideration.